LOS ANGELES — The Mavericks’ recipe for beating the Clippers in the first two games of the series had two ingredients. One, Luka Doncic was an unstoppable force. Second, the role players around him stepped up and hit shots at a ridiculous rate.
In a critical Game 5 Wednesday night, Doncic lived up to his end of the bargain — 42 points, 14 assists, eight rebounds, was 6-of-12 from three, and nobody was talking about his neck injury. Doncic was Mr. Everything for Dallas, scoring or assisting on 31 of the Mavericks’ 37 made buckets on the night, and he keyed a run 22-3 run at the end of the third quarter that was critical to deciding the game. He again looked like the best player in this postseason.
Game 6 – Fri, 9pm/et, ESPN pic.twitter.com/jtjdnk4doS
— NBA (@NBA) June 3, 2021
Everyone was impressed with Doncic… except Doncic.
“I could’ve played a lot better. I missed a lot of shots and layups,” he said after the game.
While Doncic dominated, Dallas’ role players did not step up… until it mattered most.
Dallas players other than Doncic shot 38% for the game, the other starters were worse. However, when it was a four-point Dallas lead just inside three minutes to go, back-to-back Paul George turnovers became 3-pointers from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kristaps Porzingis, stretching the league to 10.
KP. BIG 3. 🎯 pic.twitter.com/QoIeSKRRAo
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 3, 2021
While the Clippers fought to get the lead back down to one, they could not get over the goal line. Kawhi Leonard had a shot with a contested corner three to tie in the final seconds, but he never got his feet set and air-balled the attempt.
Dallas hung on for a 105-100 win to take a 3-2 series lead. Game 6 will be back in Dallas on Friday night — which could be huge because the home team has yet to win a game in this series.
Teams in the Mavericks' position (up 3-2 with a home Game 6 and theoretical road Game 7):
Win Game 6: 64%
Win series: 75%
— Dan Feldman (@DanFeldmanNBA) June 3, 2021
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle made the big adjustment in Game 5, countering the Clippers’ small-ball lineups that had dominated the previous two games — both L.A. wins — by going big. Actually, going huge. Dallas started 7’4″ Boban Marjanovic alongside 7’3″ Kristaps Porzingis as part of a starting lineup with no one shorter than 6’6″ and including a 6’7″ point guard. It was the second tallest starting lineup in NBA history. Dallas used that size and a zone defense to clog the paint.
It worked. The Clippers — particularly Kawhi Leonard — did not attack the rim like they did in recent wins. For example, 9 of the Clippers’ first 12 shots were threes.
“I think we got to the paint, we made the right plays, shots didn’t fall…” Leonard said. “They got pretty aggressive on the double team when we got down [in the paint]. Like I said, we just have to look at what we can do better.”
“They packed the paint, they enticed us to take threes rather than attack the paint because we were so wide open…” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said after the game. “We have to do better against the zone.”
The other key stretch of the game came in the third quarter. The Clippers took a five-point lead on a Leonard jumper with 4:50 left, and from that point on Dallas went on a 22-3 run that put the Clippers in a hole they spent the rest of the game trying to climb out of. Doncic was a force setting up teammates during that stretch.
“PG getting his fourth foul really hurt us, he came out and we asked Kawhi to do a lot and he got a little tired,” Tyronn Lue said, explaining the Mavs run.
“Turnovers, missed shots,” was Leonard’s explanation. “They did a good job making us turn the ball over, collapsing, and we just missed shots.”
Hardaway finished with 20 points for the Mavericks but on 6-of-19 shooting. He and Doncic were the only Mavs players in double-figures scoring.
Once again, the Clippers said they believed in themselves heading to a must-win Game 6 in Dallas. Los Angeles’ confidence has never waivered this series. But if they don’t get into the paint, and if they don’t find a way to slow Doncic, it will be another very disappointing early end to the season for the Clippers.