LOS ANGELES — Don’t forget: The Clippers tanked their way into this matchup.
Trying to get on the other side of the bracket from the Lakers, the Clippers tanked their way into Luka Doncic — an offensive force that can rival anyone in the NBA. It should be no surprise he carved up the Clippers for a second-straight game Tuesday, scoring 39 points and dishing out seven assists. This is what great players do in the playoffs.
What the Clippers can’t allow is the rest of the Mavericks to get rolling.
They did, and it steamrolled the Clippers. Again. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Kristaps Porzingins had 20 points on 12 shots. Maxi Kleber added 13 on 5-of-6 shooting. Those three combined to shoot 11-of-14 from 3, and Dallas as a team shot 52.9% from beyond the arc. The Clippers’ defense was atrocious all night as Dallas put up a 129.6 offensive rating.
The result was a 127-121 Mavericks win that puts them up 2-0 on the Clippers, stealing both games on the road. Game 3 is Friday night in Dallas.
“We got to play defense, we got to figure this out,” Kawhi Leonard said, adding there were too many straight-line drives to the basket for the Mavs. “Just come in and figure out what we’re doing wrong, just too many easy baskets at the rim.”
“We gotta do a better job of trying to stop these guys, especially in the one-on-one situations,” Tyronn Lue said, understating the problem.
The Clippers have a 129.7 defensive rating through two games in this series, 17.9 worse than their top-10 regular season ranking (stats via Cleaning the Glass).
It wasn’t just the Clippers, Staples Center was a defense-free zone much of Tuesday night.
The Clippers led 73-71 at the half and the stats were straight out of NBA 2K: The Clippers shot 62.8% overall, the Mavericks 66.7% and hit 10-of-15 from three. The Clippers had a 149 offensive rating, the Mavericks 142. Kawhi Leonard had 30 points, Luka Doncic had 23, and the Clippers bench shot 8-of-9.
Dallas executed better in the second half and was able to slow Leonard. Unlike Doncic, Leonard was not getting enough help — Paul George had 28, but after that the scoring and efficiency falls off fast.
The Mavs were dialed in on matchups — the Clippers did as promised and put Leonard and George on Doncic more (they gave him a variety of looks). Dallas handled it, set picks, forced switches, and got the Clippers out of those matchups. Doncic hunted Ivica Zubac all night long (especially in key stretches), eventually playing the big man off the floor and forcing the Clippers to close the game with Leonard and George as their tallest players on the floor. If it wasn’t Zubac, Doncic went at Patrick Beverley or Reggie Jackson, backing them down and scoring close to the rim.
When the doubles came, Doncic made the right pass and his teammates knocked down their shots. As a team, Dallas shot 58.5%.
“We are striking a good balance of inside-outside…” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “To this point, we’ve been very focused and very determined and we just have to continue that.”
Leonard finished with an impressive 41 points on 14-of-21 shooting, and he attacked the rim all night. George had 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting. The Clippers tended to rely too much on isolation when the pressure was on, but they shots — as a team they shot 53.6% overall for the night.
The Clippers just couldn’t get a stop. They were scrambling all night.
Can anyone tell me what the heck the plan is here defensively? Switch our slow center onto Luka with zero resistance, but then we will not switch an action with two like-sized players off the ball, which forces emergency help at the rim off the corner and results in a 3 pic.twitter.com/ah1JJvLR7x
— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) May 26, 2021
Dallas players were brimming with confidence after the game, with Doncic even taking time to talk to Patrick Mahomes, who was courtside.
The Clippers to a man said their confidence was not shaken, but that’s not what it looked like on the court. Rajon Rondo and Serge Ibaka got into it a little on the sidelines, and there seemed to be some tension and finger-pointing.
“We have to rise to the occasion,” George said, “Fact of the matter is if we don’t, we’re done for. But there’s no level of concern.”
There probably should be some concern. And a real sense of urgency.
And on Friday night, a little defense.