One trait of Tyronn Lue as a coach is when he finds something that works — a play, a matchup, etc. — he relentlessly turns to it over and over until the opponent can stop it.
In Game 3 of the Clippers’ first-round series against the Mavericks, Lue found something that worked: a small-ball, five-out lineup with Nicolas Batum (or, if you prefer, Marcus Morris Sr.) at center. It was how the Clippers started the second half of its first win in the series.
Lue rolled that lineup out for the opening tip of Game 4 Sunday. Combine it with an attacking Kawhi Leonard getting into the paint and tearing down the Dallas defense, the Mavericks’ role players’ struggling from three for the first time this series, and a slowed Luka Doncic that couldn’t cover for those misses, and it was all too much for Dallas.
The Clippers cruised to a 106-81 win that evened their series at 2-2. Los Angeles feels in charge heading Game 5 is Wednesday night back in Los Angeles.
Leonard has played well all series but looked more like his Toronto, Finals MVP-level self in this game, shooting 11-of-15, but only four of his shots came outside the paint (three of those were from 3).
Can’t stop the Klaw 😤 pic.twitter.com/XAn9n6RC9g
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 31, 2021
Leonard and Paul George — who finished with 20 points — getting into the paint was at the heart of the Clippers’ offensive success, but what it really did was open up kick-outs for three. The Clippers’ ball movement was crisp, they got clean looks, and hit 39.4% from deep.
Dallas, which shot 50% from 3 in the two upset wins in Los Angeles, saw the pendulum swing the other way and hit just 5-of-30 (16.7%) from 3 in Game 4. While the Clippers played good defense — Batum had a surprisingly good defensive game — a lot of Dallas’ wounds were self-inflicted. They settled for longer shots and missed them.
Luka Doncic tried to make up for that and had 19 points but needed 24 shots to get there. The neck/shoulder issue that slowed Doncic in Game 3 clearly bothered him again on Sunday.
Porzingis had 18 points, and Rick Carlisle tried to punish the Clippers small lineups with Boban Marjanovic — and he finished with a dozen points — but it didn’t really work.
The problem for Dallas is not scoring as much as it is stopping these Clippers. In addition to Leonard and George, Reggie Jackson had 15 points and Batum chipped in 10. Dallas does not have the defenders to slow Leonard or George — Maxi Kleber tries but is overmatched — and Porzingis is not a rim protector that slows the Clippers.