The Mavericks took Game 1 against the Los Angeles Clippers in their first round matchup of the NBA playoffs on Saturday. To do that, Mavericks All-Star Luka Doncic had to navigate a variety of defenses, the most he saw being a double team or trap.
Doncic didn’t make any baskets in the fourth quarter, but the Mavericks won anyway, because of Doncic’s ability to pass out of double teams and his teammates making plays. On the other end, the Clippers were unable to take advantage of the Dallas double teams against Kawhi Leonard. How these two superstars handle this coverage in Game 2 will be huge in determining a winner.
How the Mavericks handled the double teams
At this stage of his career, the risks outweigh the benefits of deploying Leonard as a Darrelle Revis like shut-down corner. He can do it in stretches but he simply cannot exert that type of energy for an entire game. As a result, the Clippers attempted to take more of a team approach when defending Luka but paid the price for doing so. Individual defenders are flies on a windshield to Luka.
After being torched in the first half, Clippers coach Tyron Lue decided he would double Luka for the entire second half. The results were the same. Luka plays the game similar to Peyton Manning. He can manipulate defenses with his eyes and body language and create open looks for his teammates. Dallas’s role players were able to capitalize on the open looks with decisiveness and aggression. Dorian Finney Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. caught fire and punished the Clippers anytime they were a half-step slow on rotations. The team also did a great job of attacking closeouts whenever the Clippers ran them off the three-point line. Outside of Luka and Jalen Brunson, the Mavericks have struggled to attack the paint in closeout situations during the regular season. Too often, they would hesitate and look to pass to a teammate. In the playoffs and against this particular team, that simply won’t be good enough. Don’t have a shot? Put your head down and attack the basket. They have to keep the LA defense on its heels and stress test their ability to rotate and defend for a full 24 seconds.
The Mavericks were able to do just that in minutes where Ivica Zubac was on the bench and the Clippers had no rim protection behind their wing defenders. If the role players can duplicate that effort moving forward, expect a long and competitive series.
How the Clippers handled the double teams
I mentioned in a Locker Room session that the key to defending the Clippers would be Dallas’s willingness and ability to execute double teams against Leonard. In Game 1, the results were mixed. The Mavs doubled Leonard on the wing and bet he’d be unable to whip the type of cross-court passes we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Luka. At times, Rick Carlisle was proven right and those possessions ended in rushed 3 point attempts by Clipper role players. Other times, the ball was whipped around on a string and the Clippers were able to create wide-open looks.
The Clippers had a poor shooting performance in Game 1 but a combination of poor rotations by Dallas and a positive regression to the mean on three pointers for the Clippers could prove to be the difference in Game 2 and the rest of the series.
Here’s the game 2 preview 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.