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Mavericks reach Round 2 with Game 6 win over Clippers

Kyrie Irving Derrick Jones Jr. Dallas Mavericks Kyrie Irving Derrick Jones Jr. - The Canadian Press

DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic struggled with his shot again thanks to his ailing right knee, and Kyrie Irving spent a bunch of energy playing defense.

Through all that, the co-stars of the Mavericks tag-teamed for a second-half surge that sent Dallas to the second round in their first postseason together.

Doncic had 28 points and 13 assists, Irving scored 28 of his 30 points after halftime and the Mavericks finished off the Los Angeles Clippers with a 114-101 victory Friday night.

With Irving alongside him this time, Doncic did what the Slovenian superstar couldn't three years earlier — close out the Clippers in Dallas in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series.

The fifth-seeded Mavericks beat the Clippers for the the first time in three first-round tries over the past five seasons and will open the Western Conference semifinals at the top seed, Oklahoma City, on Tuesday night.

“We’re pushing each other off the court to be better, and then when we get on the court it’s just like synchronicity,” Irving said. “It feels good.”

Paul George had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Clippers, who won the first two times they played without Kawhi Leonard in the series but didn't have enough scoring punch in the last two he was sidelined by right knee inflammation.

James Harden had 16 points and 13 assists but was just 5 of 16 from the field and missed all six of his 3-pointers as LA was eliminated in the first round for the second consecutive season despite the early-season trade for the 10-time All-Star.

“A lot of emotions and things going through my mind right now,” Harden said.

Irving, added at the trade deadline last year for the kind of playoff run the Mavs hope they just started, spent plenty of time guarding Harden in the first half, when he had two points on just six shots.

The eight-time All-Star opened the second half with a layup to break a 52-52 tie, then Doncic hit a 3-pointer after going 0-for-7 from deep in the first half. Following an LA turnover, Irving hit a 3 for an eight-point lead after Dallas had lost a 13-point advantage in the second quarter.

The Mavs outscored the Clippers 35-20 in the third quarter — the same quarter that fueled the Game 5 win in Los Angeles for a chance to clinch — and pushed the lead to 20 early in the fourth.

Irving gave Dallas its biggest lead with a flashy four-point play when he hit a leaning 3-pointer as he was bumped by P.J. Tucker and made the free throw for a 106-82 lead.

The Clippers answered with an 11-2 run to get within 13 but never seriously threatened a big comeback in the final minutes after George, Harden and Ivica Zubac each played at least 22 minutes in the first half to get LA back in the game.

“It caught up with us, and you saw that in the third quarter and into the fourth,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “We just ran out of gas.”

Doncic, who also has dealt with illness in addition to a sore knee, was 9 of 26 from the field and just 1 of 10 from 3 while going 9 of 11 on free throws. Irving was 10 of 13 from the field after halftime.

“Terrible, man. I need some rest,” Doncic said before walking away from a TV interview — and into a three-day break.

Now Doncic will try at least to match his long playoff run of two years ago, when Dallas stunned Phoenix with a Game 7 blowout in the West semis before falling to eventual champ Golden State in five games in the West finals.

Norman Powell scored 20 points for the Clippers, and Zubac had 17 points and 11 rebounds.

P.J. Washington scored 14 points with some big 3-pointers for the Mavs, going 4 of 8 from deep, and Daniel Gafford had 13 points with several emphatic buckets down low.

“They’re very important when you look at the culture of our team,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd about the Mavs' pair of trade-deadline acquisitions. “Our defense changed when they got here. They’re not going to complain. You don’t have to run a play for them.”

Dallas' Maxi Kleber didn't return after spraining his right shoulder when he took a hard fall on a blocking foul against Amir Coffey on a drive in the first minute of the second quarter.

Kleber, whose 3-point shooting was a boost for Dallas in the series, returned to shoot free throws, making one of two before leaving at the next dead ball.