For those of us hoping the Mavs would ride a win-streak into a first round matchup with the Clippers, Sunday was a frustrating wakeup call. The fifth seed now seems unlikely for Dallas, but the playoffs are still very likely. Dallas just needs a win or a Houston loss to secure a spot. Which seed the Mavs finish with is still anyone's guess.
The key to this game was an inability to stop leaving J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford open from 3 combined with an offense that completely fell apart after halftime. The first half was an exciting back-and-forth affair, but after halftime, the Clippers locked it up and never let the Mavs really get back in it.
So what else is there to say?
Deron Williams returned with a vengeance
In a move that surprised almost all of us, Williams started this game. D-Will has missed the past 8 games with a sports hernia, and many of us worried he might've been done for the season. Boy howdy were we wrong.
Williams played 28 minutes today and was the Mavs' second leading scorer. He pulled off 15 points, three assists, and four rebounds. For a brief moment, it felt like he might do that clutch thing he's done over and over this game. He had a nice run midway through the fourth quarter that got Dallas within five, but that was where the run ended. The Clippers reasserted themselves, and Rick Carlisle threw in the towel shortly thereafter.
But D-Will looked shockingly good today. He looked active, agile, and focused. Whichever seed Dallas gets, having D-Will available is going to be huge. So today was a win, even in a losing effort.
Raymond "JJ Barea" Felton
What the hell is going on with Mavs backup guards everyone thinks of as a joke suddenly morphing into all-stars when needed? Felton excited fans all over basketball twitter with some real dominance in the 2nd quarter. He led the Mavs in scoring with 21, to go with 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
During that 2nd quarter run, it felt like Felton was unstoppable driving into the paint. I was blown away by the number of impressive spin moves he pulled off against a good Clippers defense, including this beauty:
Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) April 10, 2016
Hopefully JJ Barea comes back tomorrow and continues his assault on the league, but today Ray Ray filled his shoes admirably.
This game was lost in the 3rd quarter
Dallas scored 12 points in the third quarter. TWELVE. It was embarrassing and frustrating, and while D-Will and others tried their hardest to make up the difference in the fourth, the Clippers did enough to hold onto the lead. The Mavs were down by 2 at half. The Clippers' lead was 17 by the end of the 3rd. Yeaaahhh.
I don't want to be accused of downplaying the Clippers' defense. It was absolutely stifling at times. LA seemed to cover every screen perfectly for a stretch of maybe 10 minutes in the 3rd. Props to them. But Dallas didn't do anything to counter the defense. Possession after possession went exactly the same way: dribble, screen, can't get open, pass, dribble, screen, can't get open, toss up bad jumper.
Wes Matthews was really bad on offense today. Ditto for Zaza and Justin Anderson. Dirk had 14 points, but yet again the team struggled to get him the ball. He only had 9 shots. With the offense looking absolutely swamp-like (seriously, it was hella bogged down), I sure would've loved to see a focus on getting the ball to the legend.
Turnovers and three-point shooting were horrendous
Anyways, if I'm being honest, there were some overall problems that weren't limited to that horrendous third quarter. The Mavs could not stop turning the ball over, and that may have been a big factor in the offense's inability to find anything close to a rhythm. Dallas had 16 turnovers today, with seven of them coming in the first quarter alone. The Mavs' winning streak has been as much about the defensive effort as anything else, and it is basically impossible to get your defense set and give that effort when the Clippers are constantly in the fast break. There's a reason the Clippers are the first team in weeks to get within a bucket of 100 points against the Mavs. Turnovers were a big part of it.
Three point shooting was the other major issue. On both sides. Dallas shot 27 percent from three and allowed LA to shoot 50 percent. I don't know how any team wins a game like that. Dallas started the game 0-of-8 from 3. No one could hit, even on open looks. Even the good shooters were bad today. Dirk was 1-of-4. Wes was 1-of-5. Williams was 0-of-2. Harris was 2-of-5. Felton, for all his heroics, was 1-of-5.
Meanwhile, it felt like J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford were constantly open from beyond the arc. The two finished 8-of-10 from 3. Those two alone were so good that Chris Paul missed all of his four 3-pointers and the team still finished shooting 50 percent from range. You simply can't let two of the games better shooters get open that much and hope to win on the road.
But as Rick Carlisle said after the game, the Mavs have to leave this behind and move along. Tomorrow's game in Utah is huge. The Jazz are playing right now and currently hold the eight seed. The Mavs are a couple of games ahead of them at the seven seed. A first round matchup against the Clippers seems unlikely at this point, but OKC would still be far more preferable opponent than San Antonio or Golden State. So the Mavs need to get back to their winning ways. Let's do this.