The Los Angeles Clippers found some life. After being run off their own court by the Dallas Mavericks in the first two games of their opening round playoff series, they returned the favor. The Clippers dominated the Mavericks in their two games in Dallas, evening the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
On their home court—in front of a crowd of 17,000—the Mavericks looked lifeless. Outside of an opening salvo to start Game 3, Dallas’ potent offense cooled and their defense collapsed. Kawhi Leonard got whatever he wanted and Paul George, who had been quiet in the first two games, showed why he’s a multiple-time All-Star.
As the series shifts back to Los Angeles for Game 5, the Mavericks need to find themselves. If they have any hopes of salvaging the series, they’ll need to rekindle their hot shooting and intensity from games one and two or their season will be over.
“As badly as it went, I saw a lot of positives in the game,” Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle said after Game 4. “A lot of guys tried to do the right things. We had a very poor shooting night and had some good looks. We’ve got to work at defending better, that’s obvious. And that’s where it’s at. It’s pretty simple. It’s really a match up-based series and I just feel like we’ve just got to work to get more traction defensively. That’s really the main focus for us.”
One of the biggest problems for Dallas’ defense in Game 3 and 4 was how many points Los Angeles scored in the paint. The Clippers threw their weight around, bullying the Mavericks’ defenders to the tune of 90 points in the paint, making 55 of 70 shots. That’s good for 78.5% shooting. None of Dallas’ big men have been able to slow down L.A.’s relentless attack.
It’s not just the inside scoring that is giving the Mavericks fits. The Clippers’ outside shooting has come alive and is opening up the floor and allowing them to carve up whatever schemes or actions the Mavericks employ.
“They are really good at kicking the ball out when we are doubling and moving it around the perimeter,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “Then we run them off to the 3-point line. Then they drive and there’s the paint attack and I’m not able to support in the paint so we got to look to see how we can take some of those away.”
If Dallas’ defensive struggles weren’t enough, the team’s star isn’t healthy. Something happened to Luka Doncic in Game 3 that affected his neck. The team listed the injury as a cervical strain prior to Game 4.
Throughout the game, it was clear that it was bothering him. He had his worst game of the series, posting just 19 points on 9 of 24 shooting. In typical fashion, Doncic brushed off the impact of his injury on his poor performance. He said after the game that he is 100% healthy but simply played a “terrible” game. Despite his claim, something is clearly wrong.
“The pain is in my neck and with my nerves,” Doncic said. “I don’t really know how to explain that. It felt way better today and this morning than it did yesterday. I will just keep doing massages and icing it down and I will be ready for Wednesday.”
A hobbled superstar and a porous defense aren’t exactly recipes for success. If the Mavericks are going to regain the momentum in the series, they must find a way to play better at both ends of the floor.
According to their coach, that means sticking to what they know, shooting the ball with confidence and finding a way to at least slow down the Clippers’ stars. If they can’t, their vacations will start earlier than they hoped.
“From a process standpoint, we’ve just got to stick with it offensively,” Carlisle said. “We had a lot of looks that we liked. We’ve just got to keep stepping into them with force. And we’ve got to work on the defense. Leonard’s a great player. George is a great player. They’ve got great shooting. It’s a challenge.”