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3 things we observed as the Clippers handle the Mavericks, 130-122

Dallas got a taste of Playoff intensity as the Clippers turned up the heat in Game 3.

Los Angeles Clippers v Dallas Mavericks - Game Three Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers tipped off Game 3 and fireworks were flying from the jump. The intensity was palpable as soon as Montrezl Harrell checked in, and the competitive spirit between he and Luka Doncic reached it’s boiling point. It was chippy, it was gritty, and it was what playoff basketball is all about. And ultimately, the score was knotted at 23 all after the first quarter.

The second quarter tilted slightly in the Clippers favor as the defense tightened up, and the Mavericks relaxed a bit with lazy rotations and failed to find their offensive groove. Midway through the second the Clippers got in the bonus, and Kawhi Leonard marched his way to the free throw line over and over. To make matters worse, the Clippers were able to disrupt Doncic’s game by being active in the passing lanes, limiting him to a 3-of-10 half while shooting 4-of-10 from the line. Dallas struggled to contain Leonard as he popped off for an 18-point, four-assist half, and the Clippers’ role players stepped up to put Los Angeles ahead 68-54 heading into the break.

The Mavericks raced out of the gates on a 6-0 run and appeared to be clawing their way back into the game. However, Doc Rivers called a timeout, and the Clippers responded with a 7-0 run of their own. The Mavericks could never quite close the gap, but at the 3:58 mark the game crashed as Doncic rolled his left ankle and immediately hopped all the way to the locker room. The Clippers put the icing on the cake with a Landry Shamet three at the buzzer to put Los Angeles up 102-85 heading into the fourth.

For some reason the Mavericks allowed Doncic to sub back into the game as he started the fourth quarter, but he was clearly laboring, and it didn’t matter all that much. He gutted it out, but the team officially ruled him out midway through the quarter. But with their backs against the wall, the Mavericks fought back to cut the lead to eight points with 6:17 left in the quarter thanks to a 12-5 run after Doncic left the game. But once again, the Clippers answered. Dallas did everything they could to make it interesting. Seth Curry scored 10 points in the quarter and Porzingis contributed 12, but Leonard and the role players closed the door.

With Doncic exiting early (13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists), Porzingis led the way with 34 points and 13 rebounds becoming the first Mavericks to reach those marks since Dirk Nowitzki (per Mavericks PR), but it wasn’t quite enough as the Clippers won 130-122 to take a 2-1 series lead.

Kawhi Leonard was the terminator

It happened from the opening tip, but it was vividly clear, Leonard was going to put his superstar imprints on the game. He didn’t directly guard Doncic, but he essentially abandoned his man on every Doncic drive and collapsed the lane causing all sorts of problems. On numerous occasions he clogged the passing lanes and disrupted Doncic’s attempts at finding open shooters on the perimeter. On offense, Leonard was Michael Jordan in his prime hitting his midrange jumpers and bullying his way to the bucket. He finished the game with 36 points, nine rebounds and eight assists and looked like the player that led the Toronto Raptors to an NBA Championship just a season ago.

The Maxi conundrum

I can’t find any fault in Maxi Kleber’s defensive game tonight. It’s hard to reconcile the effort knowing he was the primary defender on Leonard while looking at Leonard’s box score. He moved his feet well and contested just about every shot. Leonard is just that good. And on the other end, Kleber was a complete negative, which he has been most of this series. He’s now 1-of-11 from deep and has scored a combined 12 points in three games. It makes me wonder if the Mavericks should try going with more offensive firepower.

Obviously if Doncic’s ankle injury prevents him from playing Game 4 this is likely a moot point. They could maybe start Seth Curry and Trey Burke, but it’s an important question Rick Carlisle needs to answer. Should he hold back his offense while trying to slow down Leonard (which didn’t work in Game 3), or let Leonard get his in favor of greasing up the offensive engine.

The Mavericks playoff mettle was tested

This was a classic playoff game from the opening tip. The Clippers tried to psyche the Mavericks out by being chippy and verbal, and the Mavericks mostly answered the call. Doncic and Porzingis bowed up when it was necessary, and sent a message that they weren’t going to be pushed around.

The Mavericks struggled in the second quarter allowing the Clippers to score 45 points and looked like they might roll over in the third. The role players struggled, while the Clippers got key contributions from Landry Shamet, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris Sr. Lou Williams and Harrell, who all scored in double digits.

After Shamet banked in a three at the third quarter buzzer to put the Clippers up 17, the Mavericks could have easily packed it in with their star player injured. But they didn’t, and Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr. (22 points a piece) came alive to put pressure on the Clippers to close the game.

The Dallas’ defense was not great, and it affected the offense. But like the opening minutes of Game 1, the Clippers kicked the Mavericks in the teeth, but Dallas regathered and responded. It was an encouraging development for an unproved playoff team. They are down 2-1 in the series, but every game has been competitive, and Doncic and Porzingis have each missed a fourth quarter in every game. Large baby steps, folks.

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.