Many words have been written regarding the matchups in this series and the adjustments of the coaches. The most important adjustment so far is one that Tyron Lue failed to make in time.
At 6:32 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Paul George picked up his third foul when he extended his off arm and pushed Tim Hardaway Jr. The Clippers were leading 70-67 at the time. Ivica Zubac checked in for George, leaving the Clippers with Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris, Nicholas Batum, Reggie Jackson and Zubac. This lineup is still pretty standard for the modern NBA with a point guard, a center and 3 big wings. That lineup treaded water for 1:15 until the Clippers called a timeout with the score 72-69 Clippers with 4:49 remaining.
After this timeout the Clippers subbed in Rajon Rondo for Batum, leaving Morris and Leonard as the only wings on the court for the Clippers. This configuration spelled doom for the Clippers. Rondo ran a pick and roll with Zubac resulting in a turnover when Luka deflected a pass from Rondo.
Dwight Powell then made a layup in transition from the Clippers live ball turnover. After Powell’s bucket, Kawhi attacked off of Morris and Zubac staggered screens. Porzingis defended relatively well and Dorian Finney-Smith stripped Kawhi from behind on a spin.
This live ball turnover led to a Tim Hardaway Jr. layup in transition, as in an extreme rarity the Mavericks had back to back fast breaks. Reggie Jackson then got the only score for the Clippers during this run on the next possession as he knocked down a truly wide open 3 after a screen from Zubac. These were the last points the Clippers would score during this quarter.
The Mavericks then ran a poor set with a Tim Hardaway Jr.-Kristaps Porzingis pick and roll resulting in an extremely contested 3. Dwight Powell rescued the possession with a fantastic hustle rebound that led to an open 3 for Hardaway which he knocked down.
On the ensuing Clippers possession, Reggie Jackson ran a pick and roll with Zubac which resulted in a moderately contested step back 3 which Jackson missed. The Mavericks then ran a pick and roll with Powell that Zubac dropped extremely deep on, resulting in Luka knocking down a completely uncontested 8 foot floater.
The Mavericks then forced Kawhi into a horrendous live ball turnover which sprung the Mavericks on yet another break with Luka finishing an alley-oop layup.
This resulted in a timeout from the Clippers in a failed attempt to quiet momentum. After the timeout, the Clippers called a Kawhi post up. This resulted in a contested midrange jumper, which Kawhi is more than capable of knocking down. He didn’t this time.
The Mavericks responded with Luka taking Terrance Mann hostage in the pick and roll with Zubac in an extreme drop. Luka worked himself to around 4 feet and finished an easy floater. The Clippers cannot give a player as good as Luka this much space.
The Clippers then ran a pick and roll with Rajon Rondo which resulted in an open 3 with time to shoot. Playoff Rondo to the rescue! Or not. Rondo air balled the wide open look continuing the Clippers problems.
Luka then ran yet another pick and roll involving Zubac which the Clippers finally adjusted to by hard trapping. Dwight Powell rolled hard and finished an easy dunk after the trap.
The Clippers ran a busted possession after a Zubac fumble which resulted in Rondo shooting a 3 while Luka stared at him without contesting. The shot did not come close to going in.
Luka ran yet another pick and roll involving Zubac who again dropped ultra deep. Luka snaked back to the 3 point line where he buried a step back 3 over Rondo. Kawhi Leonard followed this up with an extremely lightly contested spot up 3 which he simply failed to hit.
Luka took an audacious 2 for 1 three in transition from approximately San Diego that he missed. However, as the Clippers were not back, Dorian Finney-Smith retrieved the rebound and was fouled by Rondo resulting in 2 free throws. Finney-Smith knocked both down and took a foul with 14.4 seconds left, at which point both teams made many lineup changes and the magic was over.
The Mavericks ran a pick and roll involving Zubac on literally every half court play during this run. It is common to mention targeting a player or “bum hunting” but this is as ruthlessly as I have ever seen it accomplished.
The Mavericks scored on all 9 possessions, totaling 20 points while allowing the Clippers to score on only 1 possession, totaling 3 points. The Mavericks missed two 3s but Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith’s offensive rebounds resulted in extra chances that the Mavericks took advantage of.
The Mavericks ran selectively. Luka Doncic teams will likely always be below league average in pace. However, transition is too efficient of a way to score to completely disregard.
The defense was much better. The Mavericks did benefit from the Clippers missing some shots they absolutely could have made. They also did a much better job making the Clippers less comfortable than normal and actually made plays themselves with multiple steals. Dorian Finney-Smith did a fantastic job challenging Kawhi and Kristaps Porzingis did a good job of utilizing his giant frame. The Mavericks played harder than the Clippers during this phase and it showed. It mattered.
The Clippers must keep at least 3 of their big wings in the game, especially if Luka is in the game. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the Clippers is the impressive collection of long, athletic wings. However, when only 2 are in the game, they are neither exceptionally long nor athletic.
For all of the good things the Mavericks did, the Clippers still missed 3 essentially wide open 3s in 9 possessions. In order for the Mavericks to win, the Clippers also have to lose and this stretch was an example of both.