You can forgive yourself if you don’t remember every detail. When your team is deep in the trenches of a playoff battle like this one each game, even with a truncated schedule, can feel like separate seasons. Lifetimes apart.
The Dallas Mavericks have apparently saved up every ounce of drama from the recent history of playoff-less basketball and decided to pack it into their first round series with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Each game has featured a new curve ball, and each curve ball has revolved around the core of the Mavericks present and future. Game 1 saw a suspect Kristaps Porzingis ejection, yet they were still in it. Game 2 locked Luka Doncic up in foul trouble, playing nine minutes in the second half, yet they led wire to wire. Game 3 took Luka’s left ankle, yet the Mavericks stayed mostly in arm’s reach. Now Game 4, the most recent episode:
A reminder the Mavericks won this game:— Jordan Brodess (@Jbrodess) August 23, 2020
- without KP
- starting a bubble signee
- with Luka on a bum ankle
- coming back from down 21
And they really could be up 3-1. #MFFL
These four games have been a long year.
In the midst of big picture ups and downs in this series it’s easy to forget that the Mavericks, the seventh-seed Mavericks who are currently even with the title contending Los Angeles Clippers, have arrived in this moment with their two stars playing just 55 minutes together. Including Sunday’s overtime there have been 197 minutes of basketball, and Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis have shared the floor for just 28-percent of it.
On the other bench, the star duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have seen the floor for 124 minutes. Never mind the struggles of the Clippers’ second star. The Mavericks are facing a team with a surplus of playoff experience, featuring the reigning Finals MVP, and they’re doing so with a new hand tied behind their back each game.
The Mavericks are a trapeze act, and they are flying without a net. All season we’ve understood the reality that while the Mavericks are a good team with a historic offense, they amount to two young stars with a collection of role players playing above their station. So reason would say that messing with the foundation of the team should bring the whole thing crashing down.
Yet the Mavericks have strengthened. They haven’t blinked in adversity. Accustomed to wild swings in momentum all season, they’ve rarely looked the part of a team with little NBA playoff experience. They’re 2-2 after four. It’s a best of three now.
The truth is every team faces adversity, especially by this point in the season. The Clippers themselves are without starting guard Patrick Beverley, who made an appearance in Game 1 but is battling injury. What’s impressed is the Mavericks’ ability to find solutions to nearly every new obstacle, doing so in the face of logic saying the season should be coming to a close.
Who’s to say where the Mavericks would be in this series if they were getting normal playing time from the Doncic-Porzingis duo. We can look past the fact that in their 55 minutes together they are a -15 (thanks in part to the start to Game 1). In the regular season they played 25 minutes per game together, half of every game. The entire system orbits around the rhythm of these two stars.
Credit to Doncic and Porzingis separately, who have each been leaders in their partner’s absence. But even bigger credit to Rick Carlisle and the play of Trey Burke, Seth Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr. — who are +27 in 27 minutes together, and a combined 29-of-64 from three (45-percent) — among others for finding not just solutions, but a fire and confidence that has them believing they can win this series.
Because they can. And they just might.