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3 things to watch for in Game 3 against the Clippers

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The Mavs are finally back in Dallas for Game 3. Here are three things to watch for.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The waiting period between Game 2 and Game 3 has been one of utter joy and complete misery for me.

On one hand, I’ve been riding the high from the Game 2 win and it feels like my basketball fandom is living in the clouds. On the other hand, I just can’t wait for Game 3. Immediately after the final buzzer sounded in Game 2 and Luka Doncic let out that scream, I just got excited. I wanted them to run it back pick-up style where they grab some water and get the next game going right away.

With that being said, let’s move on to Game 3. Here are three things to watch for.

The energy in the first 5 minutes

The first five minutes of Game 3 are going to be incredibly important — more important than usual. The Clippers have had a couple of days of people talking about how they’re frauds and how they’re going to blow yet another playoff series. The Mavs have had a couple of days to hear people talk about how awesome they’ve been. If the Clips come out angry and the Mavs come out cocky and/or complacent, it could get ugly in a hurry.

If the Mavs continue to play like ticked-off “underdogs” and rally behind the energy in American Airlines Center, the Clips might start to truly feel the pressure. We all know how they handled a little bit of pressure last year.

My biggest worry is that the Mavs will feel like they’ve won the series already. They’re saying all the right things, but who knows how they feel in the deep recesses of their hearts. We’ll find out in the first five minutes tonight.

Will the Clippers find a way to slow down Luka?

Luka is in a rare, elite group of basketball players. He’s one of those “you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him” type of guys. The problem for the Clips is, they’re not containing him — at all. He’s doing whatever he wants on offense, and if the Clips want to get back in the series, they’ll have to figure out a way to change some things.

Toward the end of Game 2, Luka was switch-hunting Patrick Beverley (which was an absolute joy to watch). Beverley couldn’t do anything to contain Luka. It was like one of those situations where you’re playing one-on-one with a little kid but then the kid starts talking too much trash so you just kind of have to prove that you can score whenever you want. Patrick Beverley looks like a little kid against Luka.

I was surprised at how seemingly willing the Clippers were to switch on ball screens involving Luka. I’m expecting them to fight through more of them in Game 3. But even then, that’s not going to be enough. Anytime Ivica Zubac is on the floor, Luka destroys LA (our own Josh Bowe dives deep into this here).

I don’t know what the answer is for how to slow down Luka, and clearly, neither does Ty Lue. But in the first two games, Luka dropped 31-11-10 and 39-7-7. If he keeps going at that pace, we might have to get the brooms out.

Tim Hardaway Jr.

Tim Hardaway Jr. has been a literal flamethrower for a few weeks. Through the first two games of this year’s playoffs, he’s averaging 24.5 points per game on an otherworldly 62.9 percent shooting from the field and 65.3 percent shooting from deep. Obviously, those numbers are going to taper off at some point (unless Hardaway is now the greatest basketball player of all time). So the big questions are: When will his shooting regress and what will happen when it does?

The “when” is nearly impossible to answer. He could go 0-for-8 from behind the arc in Game 3 or he could go 7-for-8. Who knows? The thing I want to focus on is what will happen to the rest of the game if Hardaway has an off night. The answer is... It’s completely up to him.

Some of Hardaway’s best plays of the last few weeks have come while doing the little things like moving well off the ball, hitting cutters with accurate passes and breaking down defenses with his dribble. None of those things are dependent on him making threes.

The Mavs can survive a poor shooting night from Hardaway if he stays engaged in the game on both offense and defense. He’s a good enough player to make a huge impact on levels that don’t have anything to do with his shooting. But if he hangs his head and allows a cold shooting night to affect the other parts of his game, then the Mavs will be in trouble.

Hopefully Hardaway stays hot so we don’t have to worry about it.

Here’s the game 3 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.