The unique schedule-making of this NBA season has produced a significant amount of so-called “mini-series.” That is, two teams playing each other in back to back games. Not quite a full playoff series, per-se, but certainly much more in-season continuity that you’d typically find from game to game.
Such was the case here as Dallas faced off again against the L.A. Clippers, but with much more favorable results. Luka Doncic was a man possessed, finishing with a line of 42 points, nine assists and six rebounds, but more on that later. The Clippers got solid and balanced production from their superstar tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who scored 20 and 28 points respectively, but it wasn’t enough to topple Dallas tonight.
A Luka masterpiece
What can you say? In a game where the team scored only 105 points (only is a bit of a strange modifier here with the triple digit score, but that’s modern NBA basketball for you), Luka Doncic scored 42 points. That’s 40% of the total offensive production from a single player. Never mind that he’s also the engine that creates opportunities for his teammates. On top of all that, Doncic was an admirable defender and found his way into passing lanes multiple times this game, resulting in three steals.
It was a 40 minute marathon performance. Just when it looked as if the Matador might be starting to wilt in the third quarter, he reemerged for an 11 point, door-slamming fourth quarter. He simply would not be stopped tonight. The only thing that would’ve made it better is if Tim Hardaway Jr. could have finished off an unspeakably slick underhanded alley-oop pass from Luka. Not only would it have given him 10 assists on the night, it would’ve made a great Top Shot for some lunatic to spend $50,000 on.
So we can play defense, then?
Something about the L.A. Clippers brings out the Dallas Mavericks best 90’s-era NBA defensive grit. The team has held opponents under 100 points just eight times, and two came from their three games against the Clippers. Not only that, those two Clippers games are perhaps their best two defensive performances of the year.
L.A. is averaging 115 points per game this season. That’s eighth highest in the league. The Mavericks have held them to 73 and 89 points. Even in their only loss to L.A. this year, they gave up only 109. Maybe it’s because of the playoff series in the bubble, but when Dallas steps on the court with Los Angeles, they’re ready to play playoff-caliber defense. It was a fantastic team effort, but Josh Richardson deserves to be highlighted specifically. His energy forced two backcourt turnovers and he was flying around the court all night.
Second half resilience
While the final score alludes to this being a comfortable dub, that didn’t always look the case at points in the second half — in particular the third quarter. There were two separate instances where the Clippers went on 8-0 runs, including a Paul George-powered stretch to close out the quarter. Far from letting the grind dissuade their effort, the Mavericks responded well in both instances with runs of their own. The way they opened the fourth quarter was especially promising as they had every opportunity to hang their heads when L.A. refused to give up the ghost.
In the end, Dallas outscored L.A. in both the third and fourth quarters and never let a pesky Clipper team mount much of a threat down the stretch. In fact, Dallas held the Clippers scoreless for the final 2:20 of the game, just as an extra precaution.
The reserves for Dallas contributed just 11 points from the bench. Not to take anything away from a great win, but if there is one nit to pick it would be the lack of production from our bench tonight. It’s within Luka’s purview to go off for 40-plus on any given night, but it’d be nice if he had a little more support than that.
It might be a bit of an unfair point. This was a low-scoring game AND Hardaway, the go-to for offensive punch from the bench, was promoted to a starting role with Dorian Finney-Smith away for the birth of his son. As such, his 15 points moved to the starting lineup, leaving only Brunson, Burke, and Cauley-Stein to put up five, two, and four points a piece.