The Dallas Mavericks jumped out to a early 2-0 series lead against the Clippers, catching fire from behind the arc and burying Los Angeles in an avalanche of 3-pointers. The Clippers struck back when the series shifted to Dallas, however, winning both games as the Mavericks’ hot shooting went suddenly cold.
As the teams head back to Los Angeles for Game 5, everyone is left wondering what the Mavericks can do to turn the momentum back in their favor. There are two obvious answers, and neither will inject you with optimism.
The first is the Dallas defense stopping the steady parade of layups the Clippers have treated themselves to game after game. The Clippers have outscored the Mavericks in the paint in all four games of the series, 188-146. The penetration on one-dribble moves has left the Mavericks scrambling, leading to breakdowns on the perimeter and in the lane.
Unfortunately, the Mavericks don’t have the personnel to do much about this. When healthy, Maxi Kleber can only slow down Kawhi Leonard at best. Hampered by a sore Achilles’ tendon, he’s overmatched. Dorian Finney-Smith isn’t strong enough to handle Leonard, or quick enough to stay in front of Paul George. Josh Richardson is inconsistent on both ends of the floor. Kristaps Porzingis should be able to help protect the rim, but he looks like he can barely move.
If the Mavericks win this series, it’ll be the same way they won the first two games — hitting shots at an unsustainable rate. That sounds simple and is definitely frustrating, but it’s the only way they can overcome the talent gap between themselves and the Clippers.
In the first two games of the series, the Mavericks hit 57 percent of their wide open 3-pointers (defined by the NBA as a field goal taken with defenders more than six feet away), which is twenty percent higher than their regular season mark. In Games 3 and 4, they came back down to Earth, hitting only 44 percent of those same attempts. They also regressed on open 3-pointers (defenders within 4-6 feet), shooting 43 percent in the first two games, and 35 percent in the last two. The number of attempts in those respective categories stayed the same, meaning the Mavericks are still getting open shots from deep. They’re just not converting them.
One of the key differences in the the wins and losses are the two teams percentages on tightly contested 3-pointers. In the first two games, the Mavericks shot 43 percent on 3-pointers where a defender was within two feet of the shooter. In the two losses to the Clippers, that number dropped to only 20 percent. The Clippers, on the other hand, went from shooting 16 percent on tightly contested 3-pointers in the first two games to 33 percent in their two wins. They stayed consistent on wide open shots from deep (38 percent on 14.5 attempts per game), though they did improve on open 3-pointers (46 percent on 13 attempts per game in games three and our, up from 37 percent in the first two matchups).
That’s a lot of numbers, but the gist of it is this — the Mavericks really have no way to beat the Clippers besides outshooting them. They’ve got to hope their 3-pointers fall and the Clippers lay bricks. I laid out this case before the playoffs started, saying the Mavericks were betting on their role players hitting open shots. In Games 1 and 2 they did, and Dallas won. In Games 3 and 4 they didn’t, and they lost.
There’s no other formula for success for this team. I suppose there’s the outside chance of Porzingis going nuclear in the paint and from behind the arc, turning games the way the Dallas front office envisioned when they acquired him. But that’s looking less and less likely every game. Instead, the Mavericks will have to rely on their 3-pointers falling and the Clippers’ missing the mark. We’ll find out which happens in the next three games.