The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Dallas Mavericks, 120-111.
Close but no cigar. Dallas was on the verge of a landmark win – a team-affirming comeback to beat a team on an eight-game winning streak to an opponent even with Dallas in the standings. Ah, what could’ve been.
Luka Doncic once again led the way for Dallas but is unquestionably showing signs of wearing down. He finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists. Another triple-double, but two points shy of his 30-point pace (an 8-for-14 night from the free throw line stopped the streak.) Derrick Jones Jr. had quite a night for himself. He scored 19 points and added a pretty stunning block of a Kawhi Leonard three-point shot. Speaking of Leonard, his 30 points and 10 rebounds led LA to the win.
This was shades of the OKC game in early December — a heroic 20-plus point comeback let down in the waning minutes as Dallas can’t quite put it away.
Small ball, big comeback
To say that Dallas has missed Dereck Lively would be an understatement. With no timetable for his return, it’s best not to dwell on it. Dwight Powell, as he seems to every season, has once again been elevated into the starting lineup. Things weren’t going well early as Dallas fell by as many as 22. Clearly, a change was needed. Dallas found a spark by going small with a lineup of Luka Doncic, Dante Exum, Tim Hardaway Jr, Derrick Jones Jr, and Grant Williams to open the third quarter.
That group managed to hold the Clippers to just 18 points in the third. It was such a stout defensive performance, that they were able to claw back into the game despite still struggling a bit offensively, scoring 27 while shooting 1-for-12 from three. Powell checking in for under three minutes and being a minus-7 in that time cemented that Dallas’ Great Value lineup of death was the way to go.
The defensive energy was the difference maker. Dallas turned the Clippers over seven times and scored 10 points off them in the third quarter. A classic case of turning defense into easy points on a night when no one had a hot hand.
This game goes down as a loss, but hopefully, the success they found with this small ball lineup is something they can lean on for the short term while they wait for the team to get healthy.
When a team goes down big, there needs to be some catalyst that gets them back into the game. With Dallas down big and Luka looking mortal, Dallas was down 17 points. Then, this happened:
Look up what a “shooters shoot” mentality is. You’ll see a picture of Tim Hardaway Jr. After three consecutive missed shots, none of which looked particularly close, Dallas grabbed three offensive rebounds and Hardaway finally hit a three. Kawhi Leonard missed a quick shot, and Hardaway hit an even bigger three.
That big swing carried over into the third, and with 7:15 on the clock, Dallas had gotten to within a single point. New ballgame. It was essentially neck and neck from that point on, with Dallas owning a lead as late as 3:46 in the fourth, but they ran out of gas. LA finished on a 14-to-4 run and stole the game back.
Dallas has been running Luka Doncic into the ground trying to stay afloat in the West. He’s frequently playing 40-plus minutes a night, but so far, it hasn’t borne much fruit. They’ve handled their business against squads like Portland but against Minnesota, Denver, and LA? Not quite.
Wearing so much thread off of Luka’s tires in losing efforts is just salt in the wound. He’s been putting up otherworldly stats, but he’d be the first to tell you he’d trade those triple-doubles for wins any day of the week.