Without Kawhi Leonard, Clippers handle Mavericks in Game 1

Los Angeles, CA, Sunday, April 21, 2024 - LA Clippers guard James Harden (1) celebrates.

The final word came down late Sunday morning.

The inflammation in Kawhi Leonard’s right knee kept him out of the Clippers’ playoff opener against the Dallas Mavericks.

And so Paul George, James Harden and the rest of Clippers coach Tyronn Lue’s group had to press forward without their best player.

Harden and George did their parts just enough, but the Clippers still crawled to the finish line, doing enough to build a 29-point third-quarter lead and escape with a 109-97 victory over the Mavericks.

George had 11 of his 22 in the fourth quarter and Harden had 20 of his 28 in the first half to help the Clippers take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series.

Luka Doncic led Dallas with 33 points and 13 assists while Kyrie Irving had 31 points.

Read more: Hernández: Missing Kawhi Leonard almost cost Clippers in Game 1

The Clippers built a 27-point lead in the second quarter, their defense so smothering in the process that the 30 points they held the Mavericks to in the first half were the least amount they have allowed in any half in a postseason game.

Ivica Zubac was big for the Clippers in the first half, punishing the Mavericks for 12 of his playoff-career-high 20 points to go along with 15 rebounds.

Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is here Tuesday, which doesn’t give Leonard much time to get healthy.

Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) emotes after making a basket against the Mavericks in Game 1.
Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) emotes after making a basket against the Mavericks in Game 1. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

When asked if Leonard could be out for multiple games, Lue said the team is unsure when the All-Star will be available to play.

“I’m not sure,” Lue said. “Like I said, he’s progressing. He was on the floor the last couple of days and we’re not sure. We’re just taking it day by day.”

Leonard wasn’t able to do any contact work last week when the Clippers prepared for the Mavericks with four days of practice.

Leonard missed the last eight regular-season games because of the knee issue, last playing in Charlotte on March 31.

He played in 68 games this season, the most Leonard has participated in since playing 74 games for San Antonio during the 2016-17 season.

“It’s tough for him,” Lue said. “But he’s getting better. He’s progressing. He’s been on the court the last couple of days. And so we’ll see. But he’s frustrated, as he should be. To put in the kind of work he did this year, play as many games as he did, do what he did this year and then now missing Game 1 of the playoffs. So, it’s tough on him, but we got his back 100%.”

This is the third time in five years that the Clippers and Mavericks have met in the postseason, and Los Angeles won the previous two encounters.

Sign up for the L.A. Times SoCal high school sports newsletter to get scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.