9:00 PM EST, TNT – Line: Clippers -4.5, Over/Under: 231.5
If there is one takeaway from the first week of the NBA’s Playoffs, it’s that the Bubble’s unique environment has really created a sense of parity, particularly in matchups in which the divide would traditionally be much greater, which is where we find the Second-Seeded Los Angeles Clippers and the Seventh-Seeded Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of their First Round Series from ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Coming into the Playoffs, the Clippers (49-23, 2nd in Western Conference) were expected to assert their dominance after finally returning to full strength in a campaign in which (for a variety of reasons) have rarely been so. Los Angeles was riding a wave of momentum before the 2019-2020 Regular Season came to a screeching halt due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, winning seven of their final nine outings before the hiatus, embarrassing their opponents by an average margin of 14.6 Points per Game, and quite frankly picked right up where they left off over the course of the Eight Seeding Games of the Restart, going 5-3 in that span despite missing a number of players who were late to return and clear the Association’s diligent health and safety protocols. Of course, everyone heard about Sixth Man, Lou Williams’ (18.2 PTS, 41.8% FG, 35.2% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 5.6 AST, 17.3 PER), leaving the Bubble to purchase wings from a local strip club, with defensive stopper, Patrick Beverley (7.9 PTS, 43.1% FG, 38.8% 3FG, 5.2 REB, 3.6 AST, 1.1 STL, 12.5 PER), being used sparingly after the Point Guard picked up a knock to his knee, while sparkplug Big Man, Montrezl Harrell (18.6 PTS, 58.0% FG, 7.1 REB, 1.7 AST, 1.1 BLK, 23.2 PER) finally returned to action after missing all of the seeding Games due to a personal matter. Simply put, this is a team that has managed to get healthy and clicking at the right time, positioning themselves as one of the few legitimate favorites for a Larry O’Brien Trophy.
On top of that, Doc Rivers finally got his two stars, Kawhi Leonard (27.1 PTS, 47.0% FG, 37.8% 3FG, 7.1 REB, 49 AST, 1.8 STL, 0.6 BLK, 26.9 PER) and Paul Geroge (21.5 PTS, 43.9% FG, 41.2% 3FG, 5.7 REB, 3.9 AST, 1.4 STL, 17.3 PER), to spend enough time together on the hardwood to build the necessary chemistry to reach the lofty expectations heaped upon them when they managed to land them both a revolutionary Offseason. With the former’s mileage monitored cautiously by the Coaching Staff and the latter’s rehab from shoulder surgery last Summer, the two All-Star Wings missed a combined thirty-nine games altogether, but have nonetheless worked out the kinks to become the formidable tandem that they were meant to be all along. So with that in mind, a favorable matchup against the Mavericks to kick off the Playoffs seemed like the best case scenario for the Clippers, who in three meetings with their counterpart during the Regular Season handled them with relative ease, proving victorious on all three occasions by a comfortable margin of 11.0 Points per Game. Simply put, this First Round Matchup was supposed to be a warm up for Los Angeles, with two games in the books it has become abundantly clear that that notion is nothing more than a fallacy, for they have found themselves in quite a battle. Though they managed to earn a 118-110 victory in Game One, there were a number of truths that emerged from this Series’ first chapter; Rivers’ charges exploded out of the gates, outscoring Dallas 18-2 to start the affair, but fell victim to a wild swing in which they suddenly fell behind as many as Fourteen Points at one point, as their opponent’s efficient offensive attack exploited them in a multitude of areas. The Clippers would gradually claw their way back into the contest, with their excellent defense relegating the Mavs to a scant Thirteen Points in the Third Quarter. In the end, LA shot 45.7% from the field, including 13-of-42 from beyond the arc (34.2%), though they fell into an isolation-heavy approach, assisting on just Eighteen of their Forty-Five Field Goals, with Leonard and George accounting for a combined Fifty-Six Points on 21-of-43 shooting (48.8%), though only 5-of-18 from downtown (27.7%). Furthermore, the Supporting Cast proved essential to the win, with Marcus Morris (10.1 PTS, 42.5% FG, 31.0% 3FG, 4.1 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.7 BLK, 8.9 PER) adding Nineteen Points and the aforementioned Williams totaling Fourteen off the Bench. Though the defensive intensity came and went throughout the night, the difference ultimately proved to be the Clippers forcing Twenty-One Turnovers, which in turn parlayed into fourteen more Field Goal Attempts, many of which came in transition where they outscored the Mavericks a decisive 16-8.
After the wild swings in momentum during Game One, Rivers would have no doubt appreciated a more consistent performance from his troops in it’s successor, but we seriously doubt that veteran Head Coach enjoyed much of what he saw in Wednesday’s 114-127 loss. Defensively, Los Angeles was uncharacteristically poor in Game Two, getting torched on 50.0% shooting from the field, including 13-of-29 from the perimeter (44.8%), and completely failed to apply the pressure that they had beforehand with just Nine Turnovers. In fact, if it wasn’t for their 30-of-39 shooting from the Charity Stripe (76.9%), the affair would’ve been even more lopsided than it already was. Offensively, the Clippers were even less fluid than they were on Monday, dishing out only Sixteen Assists in comparison to committing Fifteen Turnovers, while once again falling in love with the money ball, which isn’t really where they can expect to gain an advantage against the Mavericks. Granted, this has been one of the better Three-Point Shooting teams in the league all season (37.1%, 6th Overall), but they struggled in this regard for the second straight night, netting just 10-of-34 (29.4%), with Leonard and Geroge combining for 5-of-16 (31.3%). For this Series to turn back to their favor, the Clippers must find a way to keep their opponent off the Free-Throw Line, and pressure them at the point of attack, while at the same time getting more aggressive on the offensive end, instead of making themselves easier to defend by lagging around the arc waiting for an open shot.
Meanwhile, based off of the progression from Game One to Game Two, you would have to imagine that the Mavericks (43-32, 7th in Western Conference) are absolutely feeling themselves entering Game Three. We already touched upon the outcomes of those two previous entries in this Series, but now we’re going to dive deeper into the details of those contests and why they favor this young side so much. Going back to Monday’s 110-118 defeat, Dallas looked like they were going to get ran out of the arena early, falling behind 2-18 to open the action, with Sophomore sensation, Luka Doncic (28.8 PTS, 46.3% FG, 31.6% 3FG, 9.4 REB, 8.8 AST, 1.0 STL, 27.6 PER), limping off the hardwood into the locker room after suffering an apparent ankle injury. At that point, it looked as if capitulation was inevitable and that the game would only get further away from them. However, that certainly wasn’t the case, as Doncic returned to the fray and proceeded to carve up one of the league’s premier defensive units as if it were a pumpkin on Halloween; the Slovenian ended the night with Forty-Two Points on an efficient 13-of-21 shooting (61.9%), knocking down 14-of-15 Free-throws (93.3%), Seven Rebounds, and Nine Assists, despite committing a sloppy Eleven Turnovers in the process. His return to the court saw the momentum swing heavily in favor of the Mavs, as they eventually built a stunning 14-Point Lead in the Second Quarter. Unfortunately, Docic’s primary running mate, Kristaps Porzingis (20.4 PTS, 42.7% FG, 35.2% 3FG, 9.5 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.7 STL, 2.0 BLK, 20.2 PER), was hit with a questionable Technical Foul early in the third stanza (his second), and was ejected from the affair altogether, which granted Los Angeles with the opportunity to recapture momentum. In what was the first postseason outing of his young career, Doncic scored more points than any other payer in NBA history in a Playoff Debut, and he did so with a bum wheel against three elite perimeter defenders. If that isn’t a sliver lining to be found in defeat, folks, then we’d challenge you to find another…
As we stated earlier, Game Two flipped the momentum in favor of Rick Carlisle’s side, though this time it would be the Supporting Cast that reigned supreme against the Clippers as Doncic spent the majority of the Fourth Quarter on the Bench due to foul trouble. Just as their opponent did to them on Monday Night, the Mavs returned to the favor on Wednesday in grabbing control of the contest in the Third Quarter, where they outscored Los Angeles 37-29, building a commanding 13-Point Lead which grew to as many as Eighteen Points in the final stanza. Logging just 3:19 of action in the Fourth, Doncic watched on as his teammates had no trouble at all keeping their opponent at bay. Despite finishing with Twenty-Eight Points on 8-of-17 shooting (47.1%), including 4-of-7 from downtown (57.1%), and 8-of-12 from the Free-Throw Line (66.7%), five other players also scored in double-figures, including Tim Hardaway Jr. (17 PTS, 5-of-13 FG), the Bench triumvirate of Seth Curry (15 PTS, 6-of-9 FG), Trey Burke (16 PTS, 7-of-11 FG), and Boban Marjanovic (13 PTS, 6-of-8 FG), along with aforementioned Prozingis (23 PTS, 7-of-13 FG), who kept his cool in playing 36:11. The Bench production was key and will likely continue to be so in this Series, for this is typically an area of strength for the Clippers, but that was not the case on this night, where the Mavs held a strong 47-37 advantage. Furthermore, after committing a ridiculous Twenty-One Turnovers in the first chapter of this Series, Carlisle’s troops turned the basketball over on just NINE occasions in the second installment, which really allowed them to control the flow of the game.
So with two games in the books of the Best-of-Seven Series between the Clippers and Mavericks, what can we expect to see from the in Game Three? This matchup was billed as one of the league’s most staunch defensive teams up against one of the most efficient offensive attacks in the history of the game, and so far it’s rather evident that Dallas’ shooting and playmaking is giving Los Angeles all sorts of fits, and it’s even begun to effect their own shooting as a result. It’s very tempting to point out that had Porzingis not been ejected midway through Game One that this Series could be in the Mavs’ favor, for even despite the deadlock the statistics would lend towards that opinion; by and large they’ve been able to control the action by taking residence at the Charity Stripe, shooting a Free-Throw on a healthy 27.8% of their Field Goal Attempts, which slows the tempo and keeps their opponent out of transition, allowing them to set their Halfcourt Defense in the process. From beyond the arc, they’ve been far more successful as well, drilling 38.9% of their attempts in comparison to just 31.9% of the Clippers, which is creating a chasm between the sides, and will continue to do so if they can keep taking better care of the basketball. It’s really rather remarkable watching Doncic lead this attack, operating like a conductor of an orchestra despite only being 20-Years Old. Through the first two Playoffs Games of his career, he has totaled Seventy Points, which is the second-most in NBA History, just short of George Mikan. It will be interesting to see how Rivers changes tactics in defending him and if the rest of the Supporting Cast can continue to keep showing up, particularly Porzingis. The towering Latvian missed all of last season due to injury and is also in the midst of his first postseason run, and though he was initially slow to connect with Doncic this season, he really emerged as a force down the stretch during the Seeding Games, averaging a whopping 30.5 Points on 47.6% shooting, including 38.1% from deep.