In what could be a possible preview of a first round matchup in the playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers showed why the Dallas Mavericks would rather face anyone else. While the Mavericks hung tough for much of the game, keeping the score from getting out of hand, the Clippers pulled away in the final minutes with a flurry of efficient, timely buckets.
The game was tied at 101 with 6:41 left in the fourth quarter after the Mavs’ Maxi Kleber hit a three. From that point on, though, it was all Clippers. Los Angeles closed the game on a 25-10 run and walked away with a convincing 126-111 victory.
“There were positives in this game,” Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle said. “The ending was difficult. We did a lot of good things to battle and stay in it. … It’s a disappointing loss, but I thought we fought hard and they got us down the stretch.”
If this was a dress rehearsal for the playoffs—the Mavericks clenched a post-season berth earlier this week—Carlisle is right in that there are some positives to take away. Luka Doncic, despite being the focal point of the Clippers’ defensive effort, played mostly within himself. He tallied 29 points, three rebounds and six assists. However, Los Angeles did force him into four turnovers.
Kristaps Porzingis also played well. He scored 30 points, pulled down nine rebounds and had five assists. It was the third time in the last four games that he’s scored at least 30 points. Together, Doncic and Porzingis have combined for at least 56 points in each of the four games the Mavericks have played so far in the bubble. It hasn’t been enough, though. Dallas has a 1-3 record.
If the Mavs are going to stand a chance against the Clippers in the first-round, they’re going to have to get production from somewhere other than their stars on a consistent basis. So far, a third option hasn’t emerged to help carry the load. A series with the Clippers will already be tough for Dallas and Doncic and Porzingis will need all the help they can get.
“They are one of the favorites to win it all,” Porzingis said of the Clippers. “They are a big, physical team that knows how to play, has experience and have multiple guys that have been there already. It is definitely going to be a tough matchup, but we are looking forward to the challenge and getting experience from that.”
It does appear that Dallas learned a thing or two from its two previous meetings Los Angeles—both of which the Clippers won. In those games, Doncic was manhandled by a stifling defense and a bevy of defenders. He was visibly frustrated throughout and even left without speaking to the media after their first meeting of the season in November.
Thursday night, the Mavs were able to get good looks from deep, used the pick-and-roll to their advantage and were able to build a five-point lead on three occasions. Still, it wasn’t enough.
The Clippers appear to be a team designed specifically to fluster and defuse the Mavericks’ potent offense. Up front it begins with Kawhi Leonard—a two-time champion and two-time NBA Finals MVP—and Paul George. From there, the roster consists of some of the best role players in the league, many of whom have significant playoff experience.
Los Angeles’ cast did their job. Center Ivica Zubac feasted inside, scoring 21 points and pulling down 15 rebounds. Marcus Morris Sr. chipped in 16 points as well. Both contributed to the Clippers’ late-game surge that broke the game wide open.
“We just got distracted,” Mavericks wing Dorian Finney-Smith said. “We missed a couple open shots and a couple calls didn’t go our way and we just let the game slip. They got some transition threes, and just too many open looks in the fourth quarter. We’ve got to execute better down the stretch.”
Not all was lost for Dallas. Another positive takeaway from the loss is the ability to study the Clippers more. While neither team likely showed much of what’s up their sleeves in terms of sets and plays, Dallas has another full game of film to analyze.
“Everybody here is finding value in everything,” Carlisle said. “Every time you look at practice footage, game footage — you name it — it’s all meaningful. In terms of where we are with these guys as a possible, or likely, playoff opponent, we’re going to have to do some things better.”
And that’s what it all comes down to. They must get better. The Mavericks have the best offense the NBA has ever seen. Yet, that seemingly still isn’t enough for them to make the jump into the echelon of elite teams in the league. Or at least they haven’t shown it against the Clippers. They’ll have to figure something out if they are to have any hopes of surviving a first-round meeting with Los Angeles’ other team.
“We always have chances,” Doncic said. “You know we’re a great team. We always got chances no matter what. I think some people count us out, but we’re not out. I think we have chances, so we’ll give it our best.”