It’s hard not to wonder “what if?”. After an abysmal 18-2 start with the Mavericks in a deep hole, the team looked like it was going to get embarrassed off the floor. But Dallas gathered and collected itself and ended up outscoring the Clippers 68-48 until Kristaps Porzingis was ejected on his second technical foul.
Los Angeles went on to outscore Dallas 52-39 and the rest was history. It was a crushing blow for a game the Mavericks had the Clippers trying to keep up from the end of the first quarter.
But that’s the beauty of the playoffs. Dallas gets another crack at Los Angeles and will look to make subtle but key adjustments. Here’s what to watch for in Game 2.
Protecting the ball
The Clippers smacked the Mavericks in the mouth in the opening resulting in five turnovers (with a Porzingis missed shot sandwiched in the middle) within the first two minutes. Doncic was responsible for four of those miscues and coughed it up 11 times total in the game. Whether it was playoff jitters or stifling defense, it was the most turnovers in single game in the young superstar’s career prompting him to call his 42-point, seven turnover and nine assist night “terrible”.
While Doncic’s meekness is admirable, he and the team were entirely too careless with the ball. Dallas totaled 21 turnovers that yielded 22 Clipper points. That’s a death sentence against a team that good, especially in the playoffs when the margins are razor thin. The Mavericks simply can’t afford to not get shots up against a stout defensive team.
It might not be too soon to make lineup changes because the Mavericks are essentially in a must-win game with no home court on the horizon. In Game 1 Rick Carlisle elected to start Maxi Kleber to throw a versatile defender at Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but it significantly threw Kleber out of sync (1-5 FG, 0 FTA, 0 BLK). And it didn’t hinder the Clippers All-NBA wings either.
After a slow restart, Seth Curry finally got on track pumping in 14 points and canning four of his eight triples. Maybe Carlisle should start Curry and simply try to blow the roof off the gym with offensive firepower.
On the other end, will Doc Rivers stick with the same strategy of forcing anyone but Doncic to make plays? The Clippers seemed content with letting Doncic get to the rim (made clear by his 15 free-throw attempts) while leaving the help defense in the passing lanes so Doncic couldn’t sling passes to shooters spaced around the perimeter.
Playoff games are won and loss with subtle adjustments, and this might be where Rick Carlisle shines the brightest.
Slowing down Marcus Morris Sr.
Speaking of adjustments, the Mavericks might consider moving Kleber off Leonard and seeing if the swiss-army knife defender can keep Morris from finding a rhythm. The veteran forward was a game-high plus-25 and scored 19 points while shooting 8-of-13 from the field (50 percent from three) and was really the only Clipper not named Kawhi or Paul to give the Mavericks fits both in the box score and in the team’s psyche. Even in the seeding matchup, Morris contributed 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting (2-of-4 from three).
Dallas knows George and Leonard will get theirs, but limiting the role players could prove to be the difference. Unfortunately, the Clippers have reinforcements coming as Montrezl Harrell works his way back into game shape. However, keeping another starter, like Morris, from popping off could mean Doncic and company could make some runs and create separation from time to time.
How to watch
The game tips at 8pm and can be watched on TNT or Fox Sports Southwest.