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Mavericks - Clippers: Playoffs Game 2 Observations

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A look into the tactical machinations that decided game two of the series

NBA: Playoffs-Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Playoffs basketball is fun. Even more when the Mavericks win, like they did Tuesday 127-121 over the Clippers. Each game is a chess game of tactical moves, adjustments, and counters.

Throughout the playoffs, we’ll recap how things unfolded on the court. We’ll highlight key tactical wrinkles for each team in a notebook observation format. Here are Game 2 notes.

First-quarter

Key moments:

  • The teams started with the same starting lineups and main coverages. The only difference was Ty Lue changed the defensive matchup for Ivica Zubac. Zubac guarded Finney-Smith in Game 1, and started on Maxi Kleber in Game 2.
  • The Mavericks started attacking Zubac from the get-go. This time they didn’t only attack Zubac with Luka Dončić, they attacked Zubac with Tim Hardaway Jr. - Maxi Kleber pick and roll actions as well. Both Kleber and Hardaway Jr. delivered, scoring 22 points in the first quarter on 9 of 10 shooting.

“The difference this time was Zubac was on me, and I had big opportunities, open 3s, and could attack the basket. And obviously, I used that.” - Maxi Kleber

What worked for Dallas:

  • Mavericks went at Zubac with their pick and roll game. The Clippers had Zubac defend higher at the level of the screen on actions involving Dončić. In other ball-screen actions, Zubac was in drop coverage. Mavericks exposed Zubac in both. You can see Dončić turning the corner on Zubac when he showed high on screens, and Kleber and Hardaway Jr. making open shots when he dropped back.
  • The Mavericks were good in non-Luka minutes, something that was a problem in Game 1. Luka sat from 6:12 to 2:53 in the first quarter, the Mavericks led by Hardaway Jr. and Kleber scored 11 points during this time and were +1.

What didn’t work for Dallas

  • The Mavericks were great on offense in the first quarter, but equally bad on defense. The Clippers scored 33 points in the first period, led by 18 by Kawhi Leonard.
  • Kristaps Porzingis especially struggled defensively, George and Leonard were focused on attacking him in pick and roll. Even with Porzingis in drop coverage (which is supposed to prevent rim attacks), George and Leonard got to the rim easily. Porzingis’s pick-and-roll defense was a concern all year long, and this is something to watch for as the Playoffs progress.

Score: Dallas leads 35-33

Second-quarter

Key moments:

  • Good offense and bad defense continued on both sides in the second quarter. Both stars on each side scored at a high clip. Dončić and Porzingis had 14 and 8 in the quarter for Dallas, while Leonard and George scored 12 and 9 for the Clippers.
  • The Clippers started the quarter with a big lineup, with Serge Ibaka at the center position. Mavericks continued to attack the Clippers big man, and Lue had to revert to small lineups for the vast majority of the second quarter.

What worked for Dallas

  • Luka and Brunson started the quarter attacking Ibaka in pick and roll. Both scored in the early minutes, so Lue had to take Ibaka out.
  • Porzingis finally got a break from Kawhi Leonard. He made the most out of the minutes he was out of the “Leonard jail”. Porzingis pump-faked Zubac and scored on a drive, then made a long trail three-point shot over Zubac, and scored over Beverly on a switch in the post. Lue adjusted immediately and had Leonard guarding Porzingis again. In this series, it might happen to be that the most important job Porzingis will do, is to keep Leonard off Dončić.

“On the offensive end, I realize I can surely do that if it opens up shots for my teammates and takes Kawhi off Luka, for example. That’s a good for us. At the end it’s good for us. No matter if I’m involved in every situation or I’m not.” - Kristaps Porzingis

  • Ty Lue tried with Morris guarding Luka Dončić in the second quarter. It didn’t end well, Luka scored on two consecutive occasions, ending the second play with the “Can’t guard me!” shout.

What didn’t work for Dallas

  • Dončić became overconfident in the last five minutes of the second quarter. Dončić had three turnovers in that stretch and made some bad passes that led to live-ball turnovers and fast-break points.
  • The Clippers continued to attack Porzingis in pick and roll, and overall Mavericks' defense was still bad. The Clippers scored 40 points in the second quarter.

Score: Los Angeles Clippers lead 73 - 71 at half-time

Third-quarter

Key moments

  • Dallas started to defend with higher intensity and focus after half-time. Porzingis looked much better on the defensive end until he picked up his fourth foul with more than eight minutes left in the quarter.

“In the third quarter, our two best players, Luka and KP, really stepped up the defense. And it set a completely different tone in the second half. To be able to hold them to 19 in the third quarter, that set us up for an opportunity to win the game.” - Rick Carlisle

  • Willie Cauley-Stein replaced Porzingis but was even better on defense. Cauley-Stein’s speed caused problems for the Clippers, he was great in pick and roll and rotating to open shooter. Mavericks outscored the Clippers 21 to 14 in the third quarter with Cauley-Stein on the floor. Cauley-Stein has been the best defensive big man for the Mavericks this season by all defensive metrics. Cauley-Stein has the ability to stay in front of guards and wings. His ability to quickly rotate to the perimeter is even more important in this series when the Mavericks often need to rotate after double-teaming Leonard.

What worked for Dallas:

  • Dallas played much better defense in the third quarter, allowing the Clippers only 19 points.
  • Dončić and Hardaway Jr. continued with their hot scoring. Each scored 12 points in the quarter.

What didn’t work for Dallas

  • Difficult to pick something, as the Mavericks played the best quarter in this series.

Score: Dallas leads 101 - 92

Fourth-quarter

Key moments

  • Rick Carlisle won another coaching battle against Ty Lue. The Clippers opened the quarter going super small, with three guards in Rondo, Jackson, Mann, and two wings in George and Batum. Carlisle responded by going super big. Mavericks played their two centers, Porzingis and Dwight Powell, for the first time in this series. The Mavericks outsourced the Clippers 5 to 0 in two minutes, extending their lead to 14 points. Lue had to admit defeat and put Zubac back in the game.
  • Mavericks ended the game by hunting smaller guards on matchups with Dončić. Dončić exploited the matchups and the Clippers had to trap him again in the clutch. Tim Hardaway Jr. made key plays in the clutch out of Dončić’s traps to ice the game.

What worked for Dallas:

  • Carlisle lineup machinations created a comfortable lead for the Mavericks going into the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The lead was big enough to give the Mavericks confidence to answer all Clippers' runs.
  • Dončić hunted Patrick Beverley on guard to guard pick and rolls with Tim Hardaway Jr. in the clutch. The Clippers tried different coverages to avoid Beverley switching on Dončić. Yet, Dončić still managed to get the matchup he wanted and exploited it twice in the clutch.
  • After the Dončić buckets on Beverley, the Clippers started to trap Dončić again. Dončić committed one turnover, but Dončić adjusted and found Hardaway Jr. on the next two plays. Hardaway Jr. made two crucial plays that put the Clippers away for good. Read and the pass to find cutting Porzingis is even more impressive than the clutch three-pointer.

What didn’t work for Dallas

  • Dorian Finney-Smith made two bad decisions in transition in the fourth quarter. He shot and missed an early three-pointer on the first occasion, then failed to make the correct read and convert in a 3-on-2 fast break situation.
  • Dončić had two turnovers in the quarter, due to the Clippers' trapping and on-ball pressure.

Luka Dončić is basketball a god. Tim Hardaway Jr. became the Mavericks’ second-best player and earned himself the bag in this series. Kristaps Porzingis showed sings of life. The Mavericks shot 53 percent from three and are looking like the offensive juggernaut they were last season.

Playoffs basketball is fun, especially when the Mavericks win.

Here’s the postgame 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.