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Ivica Zubac is a can’t-miss kid in Clippers’ win over Dallas

Clippers center Ivica Zubac dunks against the Mavericks on Thursday night.
Clippers center Ivica Zubac dunks against the Mavericks on Thursday night.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

For all that Ivica Zubac accomplished during his 24 minutes and 39 seconds against Phoenix on Tuesday, the totality of his double-double was reduced to only the last 12 seconds.

His tipped pass. The turnover. The last-gasp opportunity it afforded the Suns, and their buzzer-beater game-winner that resulted from it.

Zubac replayed what went wrong afterward. His teammates did too. And because of it, the Clippers’ next game, Thursday against Dallas, represented more to the 23-year-old center than simply a preview of a potential first-round playoff matchup.

“I had to do a good job,” Zubac said.

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He played 24 minutes again Thursday at HP Field House. But this time, there was no caveat. During a 126-111 victory against the Mavericks, Zubac was virtually flawless while scoring a season-high 21 points on perfect 10-of-10 shooting while also grabbing 15 rebounds.

He ties Charles Smith’s 1992 franchise record for the most field goals made in a game without a miss.

Coach Doc Rivers called Zubac “phenomenal.” Paul George chose “locked in.”

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Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks highlights.

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“Amazing,” Kawhi Leonard said.

And Zubac?

“I had to do this,” he said, “after that turnover against Phoenix.”

With the postseason 10 days away, there is little question the Clippers will go only as far as their playoff-tested stars, Leonard and George, will take them. Each is already rounding into playoff form, with Leonard scoring 29 points, with six rebounds and five assists, and George racking up 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

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But there is also little doubt that the Clippers’ championship ambitions also hinge on the supporting cast’s readiness to withstand the crucible of a long playoff push. Zubac is just one part, but his role is critical. One of the few questions whispered by Clippers’ opponents this season was whether they could combat the size of big men including Dallas’ Kristaps Porzingis, the Lakers’ Anthony Davis or Denver’s Nikola Jokic — all matchups the Clippers could face in the postseason.

“I think he’s ready at this point in his career,” George said. “He’s still got a ways to go. He’s going to make mistakes now, he’s going to make mistakes in the playoffs, as we all are. I think, again, a good thing about it, he’s got so much playoff experience around him that our job is to make this process easy for him.

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“Again, everyone’s going to make mistakes. I’m still learning the game. It’s going to come natural. But I think he’s ready for the experience.

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Teammates stormed off the bench to greet Zubac after his dunk with 3:53 remaining in the third quarter pushed the Clippers’ lead to 12. It capped a six-minute stretch in which Zubac, who is still regaining his conditioning after contracting the novel coronavirus in June, scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds, with one extending a possession and leading to a corner three-pointer by Landry Shamet.

“They were able to find him on a lot of easy baskets,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “He had a great game, but I think we can do better.”

Late in a third quarter it would typically be Zubac coming off the bench to celebrate the tide-turning play of a teammate. But with backup center Montrezl Harrell yet to rejoin the team, Rivers has leaned more on Zubac late.

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Unlike Tuesday, Rivers didn’t allow Zubac to stay in for the final six minutes against Dallas. He opted for 6-foot-8 JaMychal Green and the lineup choice was correct – the Clippers would close on a 23-10 run.

“He came in for Zu late, really closed the game off for us tonight with his spacing,” Rivers said. “We got three guys that we have used at the five that have been fantastic for us.”

Zubac was one of them Thursday in a performance that left little debate.

“He honestly set the tone tonight,” George said.

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Three observations from the Clippers’ win over the Dallas Mavericks:

1. The victory was keyed by the Clippers’ critical response during the fourth quarter. After a 7-0 Dallas run trimmed their lead to one with 8:20 to play, the Clippers ripped off a 9-3 run during the next three minutes that provided breathing room entering the final stretch.

2. Since the seeding round began, no team had averaged fewer points in the paint than the Clippers’ 32.7. Behind Ivica Zubac, they erupted for 58 against Dallas.

3. In what was possibly a preview of a first-round playoff series, Dallas’ Luka Doncic had 29 points and Kristaps Porzingis scored 30. Rivers said the Clippers would need to do a better job finding the Mavericks’ shooters moving forward.


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