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3 observations from a Mavericks loss to the Clippers, 104-97

The Mavericks lost in another unexplainable game in what has become a wild series.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks fell to the Los Angeles Clippers 104-97 in Game 6, evening the series at three games a piece. After failing to close out the Clippers on their homecourt, the Mavericks will head to Staples Center for Game 7 on Sunday. It’s the first time the road team has won the first six games of a seven game series in NBA history.

Kawhi Leonard led all scorers with 45 points, while Paul George chipped in 20 along with 13 rebounds. Luka Doncic led the Mavericks with 29 points and 11 assists.

Reggie Jackson caught fire early in the first quarter, buoying a Clippers offense that couldn’t find a rhythm. Both coaches stuck with their starters for longer minutes in the first than usual, perhaps attempting to take a stranglehold on the game early. But neither team could go on a big run.

Rick Carlisle started Boban Marjanovic again, and though it seemed to continue to disrupt the Clippers at first, they eventually figured out a way to navigate the Mavericks’ zone they deployed with Marjanovic. Carlisle was probably attempting to force Clippers coach Ty Lue to play Ivic Zubac, who Luka Doncic has torched all series, but Lue never gave in and stayed with his small ball lineup. Zubac only saw the floor in a short span when Doncic was on the bench.

The Mavericks actually built a lead early in the second quarter when Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis were on the bench and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were on the court. But they couldn’t add to that lead when Doncic returned, and the Clippers entered halftime with a three point lead.

The Clippers struggled all game from the 3-point line, only shooting 29% from behind the arc. They couldn’t find consistence offense in the third quarter, leading to a Mavericks run that gave them a lead to start the fourth quarter. That’s when Leonard took over.

Leonard hunted Doncic on switches to close the game, and the Mavericks had no answer. Leonard finished 5-5 from the floor, including 2-of-2 from deep, scoring 12 points in the fourth. He was the Kawhi Leonard from previous championship runs.

“He had a hell of a game,” Luka said after the game. “That’s what he does.”

The teams will face off at 2:30pm on Sunday in Staples Center to see who advances to the second round. Here are three observations from the game:

Luka Doncic was too passive all game.

For whatever reason, Doncic didn’t attack the paint like he has all series. The Clippers adjusted their drop coverage a bit and weren’t as passive as they’ve been when Doncic came off picks. But they didn’t blitz or trap aggressively and force Doncic to pass out of double teams. The just lingered near Doncic on every pick-and-roll or isolation, and he passed the ball to teammates way to early.

The result was deflections or the Mavericks shooters getting the ball with a Clippers defender just a bit too close to them to get a shot off cleanly. Doncic just didn’t drive to the rim with the reckless abandon he usually shows, and it made life much easier on the Clippers.

Kristaps Porzingis was active on defense.

The Porzingis issue still lingers on offense, where he only scored seven points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field. Porzingis isn’t doing much besides standing in the corner most games, though he did have some good cuts that led to great dunks on two of his baskets. But he really made an impact on defense, deflecting passes and challenging shots in the paint. He didn’t protect the rim like the Mavericks envisioned when they acquired him, but his active hands made a difference in this game, and that’s a positive for once.

Tim Hardaway Jr. has been the sidekick Luka needs.

When word spread on social media that Tim Hardaway Sr. was in the building, Mavericks fans got excited. We all anticipated a big Tim game, and as usual when his dad is in the building, he delivered. Hardaway scored 23 points, second only to Doncic, despite not shooting well from the floor. He’s bailed the Mavericks out countless times this season, and tonight was almost another instance. Unfortunately some of the shots didn’t fall, especially in the fourth quarter, and it ended up being one of the few times this season the Mavericks lost when Hardaway scored 20 or more points.

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.