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Mavericks - Clippers: Playoffs Game 3 Observations

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

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Playoffs basketball is fun. Even when the Mavericks lose like they did Friday 118-108 to 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 3 notes.

First-quarter

Key moments:

  • Ty Lue made two adjustments in game 3. First, he replaced Patrick Beverley with Reggie Jackson in the starting lineup. Second, he assigned Kawhi Leonard to guard Tim Hardaway Jr.at the beginning of the game. Hardaway Jr. was averaging 24.5 points on 65 percent three-point shooting, so Lue decided to shut him down early. That meant Kristaps Porzingis was defended by a big man in Ivica Zubac.
  • The Mavericks came out of the gate, firing on all cylinders in front of the home crowd. They outscored the Clippers 28 - 11 in the first seven minutes of the game, led by Luka Dončić who scored 11 points, and hit 3 of 4 of these three-point shots. Early on it seemed that the Clippers are on the verge of a major collapse.
  • The key moment of the quarter (and probably of the whole game) happened when Dončić came out of the game with 4:52 left in the game. Dallas struggled again in non-Dončić minutes. In three and a half minutes of play (until Dončić checked back in), Dallas was outscored 14 - 4 and lost the early momentum.

What worked for Dallas:

  • Luka Dončić started where he left off, he went right at attacking Ivica Zubac in pick and roll. Since Zubac was guarding Porzingis we saw three Dončić Porzingis pick and roll action, and the Clippers switched Zubac on Dončić every time. Dončić scored eight points on three possessions and Ty Lue had to take a timeout after only two minutes of action. Lue took Zubac out of the game and went with the small lineup with Batum in Zubac’s place. The Clippers played small most of the game, Zubac played only 11 minutes.
  • Dončić and Porzingis continued attacking the Clippers with their two-man action. Porzingis made an and-one play rolling to the basket, out of a pick and roll with Dončić. Then Dončić found Porzingis with a quick pass for an early three. The Clippers looked lost on defense early on in the first quarter.

What didn’t work for Dallas

  • The Mavericks were -10 in 3 minutes and 20 seconds, Dončić sat in the first quarter. Mavericks were up by 17 points when Dončić checked out and were ahead by only 7 points when he returned. Tim Hardaway Jr. forced three shots in this stretch and went 0-3.
  • The Clippers gained the momentum, climbing back out of an early hole gave them the confidence and boost for the remainder of the game.
  • Dallas was +3 when Dončić was on the court in this game, and -13 when he was off, for a net +16. The Mavericks have struggled in non-Dončić minutes throughout the series. Kristaps Porzingis is +31 when he is on the court with Dončić, and -17 when Dončić is off.

Score: Dallas leads 34-31

Second-quarter

Key moments:

  • It was another quarter of the Mavericks trying to outscore the Clippers while playing bad defense.

What worked for Dallas:

  • Lue tried with Zubac to start the second quarter. Like all series, it didn’t work out well for the Clippers. Dončić scored 5 quick points in the first two minutes of the quarter, and Lue had to go small again. Dončić continued attacking and scored 15 points in the second quarter.

What didn’t work for Dallas

  • Dallas couldn’t find a solution for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in the first half. George scored 13 points in the quarter on 6 of 7 shooting. George and Leonard scored 40 points in the first half on 18 of 22 shooting. Maverick’s defense is a problem the whole series and it was exposed once again in the first half.

Score: Clippers lead 63-61

Third-quarter

Key moments:

  • Lue finally learned from his mistakes and started Batum instead of Zubac in the second half.
  • The Mavericks' defense was a wreck again to start the second half. Dallas allowed 21 points in the first six and a half minutes. After three consecutive mistakes on defense, Rick Carlisle benched Kristaps Porzingis.

What worked for Dallas:

  • Dončić continued with his scoring outburst. Dončić made his first three shots and scored 8 points in the first six minutes of the quarter.
  • For the second consecutive game, Willie-Cauley Stein changed the tone on defense in the third quarter. Cauley-Stein scored 5 points and had two blocks in 5 minutes of play in the second part of the third quarter. The Clippers scored only 5 points in that stretch.

What didn’t work for Dallas

  • Kristaps Porzingis had another bad defensive quarter and was eventually benched by Rick Carlisle. Porzingis struggled on defense all season and has the worst defensive rating among all Mavericks starters in this series. Porzingis got beat on a back door cut twice, then Nick Batum beat him off a close-out for a layup.

The Mavericks are not able to contain Leonard and George without help defense throughout this series. This is why fast rotations and close-outs on open shooters are really important. It’s evident that the lack of mobility from Porzingis is a problem rotating on open shooters when the defense is in rotation. Furthermore, his rim protection is a problem as well. Porzingis blocked only three shots in the first three games and blocked none in game three. Leonard and George speak openly about attacking the rim and do not see Porzingis as a threat.

Score: Clippers lead 89-86

Fourth-quarter

Key moments:

  • As in game two, Carlisle and Lue went super big vs super small to start the fourth quarter. Carlisle played Powell and Porzingis with three guards, while the Clippers lineup featured three guards, Morris and George. This time around the Mavericks' big lineup failed to make a run, and Carlisle replaced Powell with Kleber after three minutes of play.
  • The Clippers picked Mavericks defense apart making 6 out of 11 three-point shots in the fourth quarter. Clippers went to Kawhi Leonard in the fourth quarter, and Leonard delivered scoring 9 points in the quarter. Even more problematic, when Mavericks started to double-team Leonard the Clippers picked them apart by swinging the ball to open three-point shooters. Morris and Jackson made four three-pointers from the left corner.

What worked for Dallas

  • Not much. Bothered by back or neck pain Dončić ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. Dončić made a late push hitting two step-back threes and scored 10 points in the quarter, but the Mavericks defense was not good enough to make a final push.

What didn’t work for Dallas

  • In a game where the Clippers’ two stars combined for 65 points, the Mavericks needed their stars to show up. The Clippers made an effort to put pressure on Hardaway Jr. by putting Kawhi Leonard on him at the start of the game. After amazing two games, Hardaway Jr. came down to earth and scored 12 points on 29 percent shooting.
  • This was the game for Kristaps Porzingis to show up and he failed to deliver. After an OK start to the game in the first quarter, Kristaps Porzingis struggled for the remainder of the game. Porzingis scored 3 points and had 2 rebounds in more than 23 minutes after the initial period. Clippers played small lineups throughout the fourth quarter and Porzingis couldn’t capitalize. He missed all four of his shots and had a turnover on a post-up play.
  • Per Synergy Porzingis scored 5 points on 9 possessions on post-ups in this series, for a terrible 0.556 points per possession. Maybe it’s the lack of rhythm and shots, but the games have been so competitive that the Mavericks don’t have the luxury to try with Porzingis at the post more. The other problem for Dallas is that Porizngis doesn’t have any other go-to move when things get tough at the end of a competitive playoff game. In the playoffs,your first move is gone, and it seems that Porzingis doesn’t have a backup plan. Seeing Porzingis struggle, I remembered this speech of Bob Myers, general manager for the Golden State Warriors talking about what happens in the Playoffs.
  • Dončić's struggle at the free-throw line continues. Dončić went 2 for 6 on free throws in the fourth quarter and is now at 48 percent for the series. It’s hard to pick on Dončić after 44 points, 9 assists, 9 rebound games. But his struggles at the line are difficult to ignore.

Score: Clippers win 118-108

After the three games, it’s obvious that Mavericks' defense is a problem. The struggles on defense were overlooked by some fans because of the initial explosion on offense, but it’s obvious that the Mavericks can’t defend at a high level. Carlisle went all-offense with the Dončić, Porzingis, and Hardaway Jr. in the starting lineup and it paid off in the first two games. But the lineups that feature the Maverick’s best three offensive players were among the worst in the league on defense this season (2nd percentile in the NBA). Carlisle is a smart man and maybe he thinks that the best way to win this series is to score at an incredible rate. To do that, the Mavericks will need Kristaps Porzingis to step up and play much better. If he’ll continue to be a negative on the defensive end, Porzingis will need to make an impact on offense. Otherwise, we’ll probably see Carlisle go with Cauley-Stein more. The first three games showed Cauley-Stein is much better at covering the ground and rotating on defense, once the Mavericks double Kawhi Leonard.

The Mavericks faced their first real adversity in this series. Now we’ll see how they respond. The good news is that the next game is on Sunday. It will be interesting to see what adjustments both teams will do.

Playoffs basketball is fun, even when the Mavericks don’t 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.