The Dallas Mavericks season is over. After one of the most strangest years or so in Mavericks (and NBA) history, Dallas fell to the Los Angeles Clippers 111-97 in Game 6 of their first round matchup. The Clippers win the series 4-2 and advance to the second round.
It was a struggle of a game right from the tip, with the Clippers establishing a seven point lead and never trailing after that moment. They built their lead up to 20+ in the second half, but credit the Mavericks for making it a game in the fourth quarter, before the talent disparity between the two teams just fell in the Clippers favor.
Dallas was short-handed yet again, with Kristaps Porzingis ruled out for the rest of the series with a torn meniscus in his right knee. Despite that, Luka Doncic had an incredible game, scoring 38 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing nine assists. Doncic put the team on his back in the second half, at one point cutting the Clippers lead to six points in the fourth quarter. From there, Kawhi Leonard went into terminator mode and shut the door on a Mavericks comeback. Leonard had 33 points after a slow start and made huge buckets down the stretch in the fourth quarter.
Let’s get to what we observed in the loss.
Luka Doncic is that damn good
For his first playoff series, against a team that feels like it was genetically engineered in a lab to defeat him, Luka Doncic kicked so much ass. Like, a lot of ass.
Doncic averaged right around 30 points per game, nailed a game-winner in Game 4 after leading the team back from down 20, led them to a double-digit win in Game 2 and kept the team in striking distance in Game 6 despite the rest of the roster banged up and off.
He scored 23 points in the second half, willing himself to the rim and knocking down some threes. This is with a Clippers defense that had all eyes on him and was not concerned about his teammates hitting shots. Los Angeles played just about every defensive style in this game to throw Doncic off — they stayed home on shooters in the corners when he got to the rim, they swarmed him with traps at the three point line, they showed and recovered in the pick and roll, they switched. They basically threw the kitchen sink at him and he still torched him. Reminder: he sprained his ankle pretty bad in Game 3. He did all this less than 100 percent.
That bodes well for the future. We already knew this, but Luka Doncic has it. Whatever the Mavericks do in the off-seasons to come, good or bad, will only matter so much since Doncic has vaulted himself into a top-5 player in the league.
Tim Hardaway Jr. must be hurt more than we thought
Hardaway found himself on the injury report before Game 6 with a neck injury, but he played 33 minutes in Game 6. It might have been the worst game he’s played as a Maverick.
He scored 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting, was 2-of-11 from three, grabbed just one rebound and had one assist. His defense was non-existent, with slow rotations and standing-up man defense as guys scooted right by him. That contributed to his minus-31 in his 33 minutes of play and while plus/minus can be a wonky stat, the minus-31 was absolutely correct — he was by far the worst player on the floor, including both rosters.
It wasn’t just the missed shots, it was how he missed them. Some of them weren’t even close, with air balls and shots clanging off the side of the rim. It was ugly. So ugly, that I refuse to believe his neck injury wasn’t bothering him more than maybe he let on. Even when Hardaway has a bad game, he’s never been this bad. It’s a shame he wasn’t fully healthy for this crucial game, but the Mavericks needed him without Porzingis and he couldn’t deliver.
The Mavericks role players couldn’t match the Clippers equivalent
I tweeted this during halftime:
this second half and the mavericks season comes down to the question we've asked since last summer: will the role players make enough shots?— Josh Bowe (@Boweman55) August 30, 2020
To start the third quarter, Hardaway and Dorian Finney-Smith missed open shots on the Mavericks first two possessions. The Clippers scored twice on theirs and Rick Carlisle called a timeout. That small stretch pretty much defined the Mavericks weaknesses this season.
Maxi Kleber was 3-of-10 and 2-of-6 from three. Trey Burke was 2-of-10 and 0-of-2 from three. Seth Curry was 3-of-7 and 1-of-3 from three. We’ve already listed Hardaway’s struggled. Finney-Smith was the only non-Doncic Maverick to score double-digits on efficient shooting. It was a problem all season, all series and especially in Game 6.
Meanwhile on the Clippers side, Marcus Morris made 4-of-5 shots before his ejection. Landry Shamet made 3-of-6 from three. Ivica Zubac had 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Reggie Jackson had 14 points on 4-of-7 from three.
The Mavericks just need some more guys who can defend and hit shots next to their two stars. Delon Wright and Justin Jackson, two players the Mavericks were counting on to be starters last summer, were basically DNP-CDs in Game 6 (Wright didn’t play and Jackson played two garbage time minutes). Dallas just ran out of gas, with a roster full of players that had to play a peg or two above their expected slot in the rotation. It was a helluva fight, but it just wasn’t enough.