Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s attempt to erase the bitter memories of last season’s bubble exit did not get off to a good start. The No. 4 seed Los Angeles Clippers fell to the No. 5 seed Dallas Mavericks 113-103 in the opening game of their series.
After blowing a 3-1 advantage is last season’s playoffs against the Denver Nuggets and having to listen to criticism of their player management tactics, you would think the Clippers would make a major statement in Game 1. The Mavericks took the Clippers to six games in the bubble last year, so Los Angeles knew how dangerous its first-round opponent is.
Leonard and George weren’t bad, but they weren’t good either. The duo combined to shoot 17-40 from the floor, including a 3-14 performance from deep. Leonard and George combined for 49 points, 10 assists and 16 rebounds in the loss. And while the abysmal performance of LA’s supporting cast should not be overlooked, these two players chose to play with each other. They should be expected to do more.
Leonard, by virtue of playing with the Spurs for a majority of his career, is usually on the winning side of Game 1. He’s 18-6 in opening games of playoff series, including Saturday’s loss. In the previous five instances, Leonard’s team went on to win the series three times. One of those series losses can be excused as Leonard suffered an injury in Game 1 vs. the Golden State Warriors. He did not play the rest of the series and only appeared in nine games the following season before being traded to the Toronto Raptors. If we excuse San Antonio’s loss to Golden State in Game 2 of the 2017 West finals, Leonard is 3-1 in Game 2 after losing Game 1.
George is not quite as good in Game 1s. He’s 7-9 in his career in opening games of a playoff series, including the loss to the Mavericks. In the previous eight series, George’s team went 3-5 for the matchup. There are some caveats here as well. Three of those defeats came against LeBron James and one was in Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook. George’s teams are 5-3 in Game 2 after losing Game 1.
The Clippers are still favored in the series, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, but the line has moved substantially towards the Mavericks. LA is now -155 to win the series, down from the previous line of -400. Dallas entered the series at +300. That line has moved to +125 after the Mavericks won Game 1.
Expect Los Angeles’ stars to bounce back in Game 2, especially Leonard. He rattled off four straight wins with the Raptors against the Orlando Magic in the opening round after dropping Game 1, then did it again after falling down 2-0 to the Milwaukee Bucks. Leonard chose his situation in Los Angeles and chose his running mate in George.
In an offseason where Leonard can become a free agent, the stakes are raised. Game 2 can play a huge part in Leonard’s and George’s futures. They’ve historically been on the right side of Game 2s after a defeat in the opener and they’ll need to be on the right side again to avoid a 2-0 hole heading to Dallas.
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