Calling the NBA “a make-or-miss league” is one of the basketball adages used most often by Clippers coach Doc Rivers, with Tuesday’s performance at American Airlines Center providing another reason why.
The Clippers missed.
And missed some more.
During one nightmarish second-half span of nearly eight minutes, they missed 16 consecutive field-goal attempts.
They followed that by making four of their 16 shots during the game’s final eight minutes.
In the process, they missed an opportunity to build a winning streak on the road and hold their ground in the playoff race during a 106-98 loss to Dallas.
“We did a lot of good things but we didn’t win the game,” Rivers said. “You don’t win the game, you don’t feel good.”
After scoring a team-high 16 points during his second consecutive start, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley scrolled through his phone at his locker before leaning back in his folding chair, his face drained of the energy that had kept the Clippers close throughout in spite of their 36% shooting overall, and 27% shooting on three-pointers.
“That’s a game we should have won, for sure,” Beverley said. “Give them credit. They played well but we let them off the hook tonight. Straight up. Simple as that. We let them off the hook.”
His frustration stemmed from the fact that for all of the Clippers’ offensive issues — coming only two days after they made 52% of their three-pointers in a win at San Antonio that snapped a season-high five-game losing streak — they weren’t without chances to steal a victory.
The Clippers (25-22) trailed by three with 11:27 to play in the fourth quarter when Ty Wallace’s tip-in broke the team’s nearly eight-minute stretch without a field goal. With eight minutes to play, consecutive three-pointers from reserves Jerome Robinson and Mike Scott gave the Clippers a five-point lead.
The Clippers committed only seven turnovers, turned by Dallas into 23 points, and did what no other Dallas (21-26) opponent has done this season by holding star rookie Luka Doncic without a made three-pointer. He scored 17 points, but made only five of 15 shots and missed all eight threes he attempted. After missing a wild heave from inside half court to close the first half, Doncic ripped the front of his jersey down the middle.
“We were just trying to get other guys to make plays for them,” said Avery Bradley, who scored 15 points and was tasked with following Doncic. “I feel like we did good at times but we had a lot of defensive lapses and it ultimately cost us.”
After falling behind by five points in the final quarter, the Mavericks went on a 14-3 run to end their four-game losing streak. Dallas forward Harrison Barnes scored six of his game-high 20 points during the fourth quarter.
After missing the last two games with an injured hamstring, Lou Williams returned to score 15 points but also struggled to make shots, making five of the 16 he took in nearly 24 minutes.
The loss was the sixth in the Clippers’ last seven games and dropped them from seventh to eighth in the Western Conference standings. Those standings remain fluid with 35 games remaining but the margin for error is growing slimmer.
They next play Wednesday in Miami.
“It’s a must-win,” said forward Tobias Harris, who scored nine points and failed to make a field goal in the second half against the Mavericks’ blitzing, trapping defense. “All of these games are.”