Seven minutes into Game 3, the Clippers looked cooked — Dallas led 30-11 at one point and couldn’t seem to miss a shot, which is how they got up 2-0 in the series. The schadenfreude of Lakers fans was real.
Then Luka Doncic went to the bench.
The Clippers bounced back with a 20-2 run, and before the quarter ended it was a game again.
It was like that all night. Doncic was once again brilliant — despite a clearly sore right shoulder — scoring a career playoff-high 44.
However, the rest of the Mavs combined to shoot 39.7% on the night — despite shooting over 50% from three again. Tim Hardaway Jr. hit just 4-of-14, Kristaps Porzingis and Dorian Finney-Smith were each 3-of-10. In the two Mavericks wins, Doncic got help, but that was gone on Friday night.
Los Angeles leaned heavily on its stars — Kawhi Leonard had 36, Paul George 29 on 11-of-18 shooting — but role players such as Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson stepped up. Down the stretch, Dallas could not stop Leonard, and when they started to trap and double him, Rajon Rondo and Nicolas Batum made the extra pass and every Clipper seemed to hit a shot.
The result was a 118-108 Clippers win that keeps their season alive. The Mavericks still leads the series 2-1, with Game 4 set for Sunday in Dallas. The Mavericks remain the favorites.
But the Clippers have hope.
“Being down 2-0 and coming out, taking their best shot early… on their home floor and to come back and win the game we did, I think says a lot about us,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said after the game.
“We ain’t done nothing yet,” Leonard said. “We still gotta prove ourselves.”
The Clippers expected the Mavericks hot shooting from 3 to slow — and it did not. Dallas shot 20-of-39 (51.3%) from beyond the arc, led by 7-of-13 from Doncic.
It was inside the arc that was the problem. Dallas got to the rim just 12 times and hit only 58.3% of those (the Clippers were 17-of-20 at the rim). Even worse, Dallas was 7-of-26 on short midrange shots.
What the Clippers got was stellar play from their stars and coach Tyronn Lue making the hard decisions. Ivica Zubac started the game but only played 11 minutes in short spurts, and Batum started the second half. Also in the second half, Patrick Beverley never got in the game as Lue trusted Reggie Jackson, Rajon Rondo, and Terance Mann to make plays from the point guard spot — which they did.
This game shook out more like what the Clippers expected from the series, but if they cannot repeat their success on Sunday, they will head home on the wrong end of a 3-1 series. Of course, the Clippers know a team can come back from that far down, but they would prefer to avoid that challenge.