The Dallas Mavericks fell to the Los Angeles Clippers in the game one of their first round series Monday night, 118-110. Kawhi Leonard poured in 29 with Paul George adding 27 in victory. Luka Doncic led the Mavericks in defeat with 42 points, a record for a playoff debut.
It’s hard to imagine a worse start to the NBA Playoffs for the Dallas Mavericks than what they endured in the opening minutes. Repeated turnovers, a nasty fall from Luka Doncic, and impressive shot-making from the Clippers resulted in an early 10-0 lead for LA. But after spotting Los Angeles a 16 point lead something strange happened: the Mavericks started to make shots. Led by Tim Hardaway and Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas worked themselves back into the game, eventually tying it on a Seth Curry pull up three. Luka Doncic re-entered the game and Dallas kept coming, including two huge threes from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. A late Doncic three late gave Dallas a 38-34 lead after one quarter.
Hot shooting and surprisingly stellar defense from the Mavericks boosted the four point lead up to a 16 point lead by the 7:30 mark, capping off a 48-18 run. The Clippers responded with a 9-0 run of their own, bolstered by back-to-back possessions where Porzingis got hammered at the rim resulting in a no-call followed by Porzingis blocking Paul George at the rim and getting called for a foul.
The Clippers finally tied the game at 57 with 2:49 remaining. Dallas responded and closed the half well, drawing third fouls on both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as the Mavericks kept attacking the rim and kicking out for threes. The Mavericks poured in 12 threes, the most in a half in Dallas playoffs history, and took a 69-66 lead into the half.
Both teams started insanely cold in the third, with neither scoring until a Luka Doncic short jumper two and a half minutes in. Then, the referees decided to change the course of the game: following a Doncic turnover, Marcus Morris engaged in some extra contact which Doncic took offense to. The officials let it go and things escalated. Kristaps Porzingis entered the scrum and following some shoving, the refs decided to issue both he and Morris technicals, which meant Porzingis was ejected from the game. Dallas was already cold to start the game, but the ejection seemed to sap them of energy, as their hot shooting cooled all the way off. The Mavericks scored just 13 points in the frame and entered the trailing the Clippers by five, 87-82.
The bench came up big to start the fourth, keeping pace with the Clippers and even tying the game at 89 up while Doncic got a few minutes of rest. The Mavericks fought and hung within a few points but an already thin bench looked gassed half way through the frame. Luka Doncic kept pushing attacking the rim and making tough plays. But the Mavericks could not capitalize enough on miscues from the Clippers, and ultimately LA’s depth and talent was too much for Dallas late. The Mavericks made the Clippers very uncomfortable, but fell 118-110.
Now, some thoughts:
The full Luka Doncic experience
42 points seven rebounds, nine assists, and eleven turnovers is quite the stat line. Doncic looked like a train wreck early but regained his senses and played a strong game. He’ll need to clean up the turnovers but he’ll also need to see what passes were there that he couldn’t see. Passes to the roll man were non-existent for Doncic tonight, and by the third quarter he seemed to stop looking. Dallas needs to find ways to get him easier looks, but that may be challenging considering how much length the Clippers have. The other Mavericks, meanwhile (as usual), need to hit a few more open looks.
Too many turnovers
The Mavericks had 13 turnovers in the first half, including four in the first three minutes of regulation. They finished with 21 on the game. Dallas has protected the ball well all season, averaging 12.7 turnovers per game, so the consistent miscues were a source of frustration and a key factor in the loss. Though Doncic had 11 all by himself, the three turnovers from Kleber and two for Finney-Smith were out of character. To have any chance in this series, the Mavericks have to clean up around the edges.
Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber have to contribute more
Things went bad for Kleber from the beginning, when he turned the ball over to Patrick Beverley following the tip. From there things went mostly downhill, with some offensive miscues, poor defense at times, out of position on rebounding and rough shooting with his limited touches. Dorian Finney-Smith had a mostly rough day on offense as well, missing four of his five three point attempts missed, all of which were wide open.
Much is asked of these two undrafted players, each of whom has earned his keep at the NBA level. They are each very good players, but if Dallas wants to compete with the Clippers, Finney-Smith and Kleber will have to find more to give.
Here’s the postgame podcast, Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you can’t see the embed below “More from Mavs Moneyball”, click here. And if you haven’t yet, subscribe by searching “Mavs Moneyball podcast” into your favorite podcast app.