The Dallas Mavericks fell to the Los Angeles Clippers Friday night, 118-108. Kawhi Leonard carved Dallas up, scoring 36 points in a variety of ways to go along with eight rebounds, a steal and two blocks. Luka Doncic led Dallas with 44 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists.
The Mavericks, led by Doncic, came out throwing fireballs, going up 11-0 before the Clippers could finally get on the board. Dallas rained fire from distance in the quarter, shooting 7-of-12 in the frame, and built up a 30-11 lead with every Maverick getting in on the action. But when Doncic subbed out around the five minute mark, the Clippers settled in and the Mavericks started taking tougher shots. Los Angeles went on a 14-0 run to make things a game again. A late scuffle involving Doncic and Patrick Beverly resulted in a double technical foul call, then Willie Cauley-Stein got called for a flagrant one on a Terance Mann drive. Despite all the late drama, the Mavericks called a 34-31 lead after one period.
Los Angeles kept coming in the second quarter, playing with the desperation of a team down 0-2 in the series. There were a number of lead changes in the quarter, with Doncic hitting shots on one end, then both Paul George and Leonard connecting on the other. For Dallas, the problem lay in the defense, with every Dallas defender getting beat off the dribble, reminiscent of the defensive play Dallas displayed often during the regular season. A pair of threes late in the quarter from Reggie Jackson pushed the Clippers to their largest lead at that point in the game, but Doncic connected on a mid-rage fadeaway to cut the lead to two. Dallas found themselves behind at halftime, 63-61.
A grindy third quarter ensured for the Mavericks following the break, with the Clippers continuing to carve them up on drives and in the lane. Dallas, to their credit, continued to fight on the offensive end, but little came easy with a revved up Clipper defense. The Mavericks missed multiple putbacks at the rim one possession early in the third and Los Angeles built up a seven point lead, to this point their largest of the series. But Dallas wasn’t done, willing their way back in it through drives. Ivica Zubac crushed the Mavericks on the boards late in the frame and some extracurriculars from Cauley-Stein resulted in a technical foul and a free throw. The Mavericks had two chances to close the game but could not and Los Angeles took an 89-86 lead into the fourth.
With Doncic on the bench to start the fourth, Dallas tried to get a run going. Rajon Rondo opened with a Los Angeles three to push the lead to six and then Kristaps Porzingis lost the ball after getting doubled on a late entry pass on a post up. The Clippers couldn’t extend the lead and Jalen Brunson hit a three following a Porzingis offensive rebound. Doncic re-entered the game around nine minutes and Dallas had a chance to go on a run, but could not stop the Clipper offense. In particular, doubling Leonard resulted in multiple possessions of scrambling defense where a variety of Los Angeles defenders made the Mavericks pay. Doncic tried to rally Dallas with late threes, but missed four free throws earlier in the quarter which made the deficit too much to overcome. The Mavericks fell 118-108.
Now, some thoughts.
The defense must improve
There’s an argument to be made here that the Los Angeles Clippers, led by their two superstar forwards, were simply lights out. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard were 24-of-35 from the floor, often from areas of the floor that are considered the kind of shots modern defenses are willing to live with.
The problem is, in a playoff game teams can no longer afford to play the percentages. When the Mavericks adjusted by doubling Leonard in the fourth, Los Angeles answered with smart basketball plays and made shots. Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson hitting 7-of-15 from three is the exact sort of play Dallas got from their role players in previous games.
The Mavericks must find an answer here. Their rim protection was non-existent and that’s largely a team problem. Dallas perimeter defenders cannot afford to get beat on single dribble moves and it happened all night long. Giving up 46 points in the paint is simply too much to overcome. They have to figure out an answer here.
Dallas has to finish their two point shots
Shooting just 18-of-47 from two point range isn’t going to cut it. That number falls to 10-of-32 when we exclude Luka Doncic’s makes.
Granted, a lot of those were missed tips. I can think of two possessions in particular when the Mavericks had many chances to finish tips or second chance baskets around the lane and just... didn’t.
This is a very specific way of saying the Maverick role players need to find meaningful ways to contribute on offense past connecting on open threes (which they did extremely well, again).
The Mavericks need more from Kristaps Porzingis
I’m going to choose my words very carefully here, as I am often very critical of Porzingis. There’s a pair of arguments to be made about Porzingis on either side of the ball.
On offense, the Mavericks have to find a way to get him shots in the flow of the offense. He cannot be a decoy and his teammates really need to pass it to him when he’s wide open. I counted five times he was looked off. On the other hand, he’s got to be more aggressive when he does get those chances. Jumpers don’t always fall and he finally started going for offensive boards late, which I’ve always argued help get him into things.
Defensively, the argument that he gets hung out to dry on things in the restricted area holds water. As I mentioned earlier, the Dallas defenders getting beaten on single dribble moves is maddening. That said, Porzingis gets caught napping a lot. He gave up two backdoor plays in the third quarter which got him pulled out of the game (though it could’ve been part of his usual rotation). The season long debate about whether he isn’t moving well or doesn’t move on defense no longer matters. He currently isn’t moving enough on defense and is not much of an impediment at the rim.
The bottom line is simple: Dallas needs more from Kristaps Porzingis in one way or another.
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.