Winning Game 1 has to be a good feeling for this Dallas team. Much was made on the broadcast Saturday, as this is the first Game 1 win in a playoff series for the Mavericks since 2011 and their first series lead since going up 2-1 on the eventual champion Spurs in 2014.
In the playoffs, going on the road and splitting the games is oftentimes considered a victory in itself, having swung “home court advantage” for the rest of the series. Well, the Mavs got that done on their first try, so in some sense, Game 2 is house money. Essentially every sports talking head on record picked the Clippers to win this series. Even so, hardly any thought it would be a sweep, so to drop a single game likely isn’t causing too much consternation with the prevailing narrative or the Clippers locker room.
However, if the Mavs go and steal game two, and come home to Dallas with a two game lead? Oh, that’s when the panic will set in.
Don’t look down
All season, the Clippers — the team with the NBA’s third-best offensive rating and league leader in three point percentage (by a wide margin) — has run into a brick wall against Dallas. During the regular season, the Mavericks won the series two games to one, and handed LA two of their worst losses of the season, including a historic 51-point beat down. In both losses, the Mavericks held the Clips under 100. Even in their lone win, LA still only managed 109 points — a touch below their 114 point per game season average.
How is Dallas doing this? As basketball becomes more and more quantified, we’ve learned how much random luck comes into play on things like three point defense. Players will either make their threes or they won’t, regardless of how it’s defended. In this aspect, Dallas seems to be getting extremely lucky against the Clippers.
The other aspect of Dallas’ defensive schemes seems to be a heavy helping of double teams on LA’s offense generator, Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is an improved passer, but lacks the creativity and defensive manipulation that Doncic has when doubled. To his credit, Kawhi did create some open looks for teammates that they simply did not convert. Rajon Rondo, of all people, was the dead eye for LA on Saturday, hitting 3 of his 4 attempts from three. The rest of the team? They went a combined 8-36. 22.2 percent. Awful.
For whatever reason, Dallas seems to have the Clippers number this year. Why so many 40 percent three point shooters can’t seem to hit the broadside of a barn against Dallas is a bit of a mystery, but, like Wile E. Coyote, maybe if Dallas just never looks down, they’ll just keep on running forever.
Role player baton pass
This season for Dallas has been a roller coaster in every sense of the word. From game to game, even quarter to quarter, you simply could not count on what kind of team you were going to see on the floor for the Mavs.
In Game 1, that changed. No 40 point quarters followed by 18 point stinkers. No minute-long scoring droughts requiring a huge scoring run of their own. Dallas never ran away with it, but they also never needed to play catchup. It was a remarkably consistent showing that saw the Mavericks win every single quarter.
The law of averages implies Dallas likely can’t rely on Dorian Finney-Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. to go 9-of-14 from three on a regular basis, but the great news is, there are other role players due for a big game. Finney-Smith and Hardaway Jr showed out in Game 1. In Game 2, look for big games from guys like Josh Richardson or Dwight Powell. Kristaps Porzingis was only the Mavs fifth highest scorer on Saturday; there’s certainly room to grow for him in the box score. Heck, even Luka Doncic with his 31-10-11 triple double went 0-for-5 in the fourth quarter. No question we’ve seen better from him in crunch time.
If Dallas can find consistency by shuffling in big games from different role players, they’ll have found a winning formula that can revolve around Luka’s steady production.
Possessions will matter
In game one, Dallas shot 50/47/77 for the game. Los Angeles managed just 44/27/75. By those numbers, you might expect the game to be a bit of a blowout. Dallas did eventually win by double digits, but it was a much closer game than that, with many lead changes along the way. So how did LA manage to nearly pull off the W on a bad shooting night? They found ways to add possessions. The Clippers took eight more shots than Dallas did.
At the start of this series, it was noted that Dallas and Los Angeles were two of the slowest teams in the league (26th and 28th respectively in pace). In a game with fewer possessions, each shot means more.
Over the course of the season, Dallas averaged 11 turnovers per game. They more or less matched that on Saturday with 12. The Clippers are a similarly stingy team who only gave up 12 turnovers per game. However, Dallas only managed to pry the ball away from LA five times all game, and they managed zero fast break points off of the few they got. Basing the entire defensive game plan around the Clippers shooting themselves out of the game doesn’t seem all that sustainable, so it’d be nice to see the Dallas defense get a little more disruptive to even out the shot disparity and earn some easy points on the break to lessen their reliance on shooting lights out from three.
How to watch
The game starts at 9:30pm on Bally Sports Southwest and NBA TV.
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.