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Clippers let Mavericks slip away in Game 2 to tie up series

Clippers' Kawhi Leonard drives past Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic.
Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard drives past Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic during the first half.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The second game of the Clippers’ postseason began Wednesday with an irreplaceable player missing from their lineup.

It turned ominous when they missed nine of their first 10 shots.

It was over when they missed multiple opportunities to complete their comeback and assert control over the game, and series, at Orlando, Fla.

The Clippers’ 127-114 loss to Dallas in Game 2 of their now-even first-round series wasn’t the result of falling behind 15-2 within the first quarter’s first five minutes, though that stretch — which came only two days after the Clippers opened Game 1 on an 18-2 run — certainly did not help. By the end of that quarter, the Clippers had mostly dug themselves out of that hole.

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Instead, each time the Western Conference’s second seed appeared poised to rally, it quickly dug itself another.

“They’re the reason why we didn’t come back,” said Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, who had 35 points and 10 rebounds. “They knocked down big shots at the right time when we had our runs.”

It happened early in the second quarter, when a four-point Mavericks lead ballooned to 15 in under three minutes.

It happened late in the third, when a two-point game became 13 in 82 seconds.

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Their inability to close continued in the fourth even with Mavericks star Luka Doncic sitting on the bench with five fouls and Dallas leading by 13 with 11:37 remaining. Despite a lineup featuring superstars Paul George and Leonard going against a bench-heavy Mavericks lineup, the Clippers were behind by 18 just three minutes later.

With less than three minutes to play in the game and a chance to trim Dallas’ lead to single digits, center Montrezl Harrell was called for an offensive foul while setting a screen near the top of the three-point arc. Harrell spent the ensuing timeout either arguing the call or talking, animatedly, with coach Doc Rivers, but the moment was long gone. On Dallas’ next possession, it pushed its lead to 12 on two free throws.

“Every time we were putting possessions together we fouled,” said George, who finished with 14 points, all in the second half. “I thought that really was the game.”

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Lou Williams added 23 points off the bench, with seven assists, for the Clippers. Yet two days after TNT analyst and former NBA guard Greg Anthony said that the Clippers “have the best roster in the NBA, and I think they have the best roster by quite a bit,” that depth failed to crack the Mavericks. Dallas’ bench trio of Boban Marjanovic, Seth Curry and Trey Burke made 19 of their 28 field-goal attempts.

“They played harder,” Williams said. “They were hungry to get a game.”

Doncic scored 28 points, with eight rebounds and seven assists. He has 70 points through his first two playoff games, second only in NBA postseason history to the 75 George Mikan scored in 1949.

No statistic, however, was more important than the single turnover he committed, considering his polished night came 48 hours after turning the ball over a career-high 11 times in Game 1.

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In that game, harried defense by Patrick Beverley set the tone from the start as Doncic was swarmed on pick-and-rolls. With Beverley out because of a strained left calf, it was Doncic who made the early statement by lobbing an
alley-oop to Maxi Kleber for a dunk on the opening possession.

The Mavericks never trailed again.

Clippers center Montrezl Harrell returned to play Monday after the death of his grandmother, who was a big fan and close friend. “She was my entire world.”

At halftime, Doncic had three fouls — his last drawn only 4.6 seconds before halftime, 23 feet from the basket — but 22 points, seven assists and six rebounds.

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“It’s not all about triple doubles,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said of Doncic, the league leader in the category. “It’s about directing traffic and doing what it takes to help your team win.”

Beverley reported discomfort in his left calf during the shoot-around Wednesday morning. Rivers didn’t put a timetable on Beverley’s return, but he missed five games after initially hurting it Aug. 4.

Trying to slow down Doncic, the Clippers tried man-to-man coverage, double-teams, zone and traps before he reached halfcourt to keep him guessing.

But Dallas began the second quarter like it had the first, with another 15-2 run building its lead to 17 points.

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It was only six late in the second quarter after Reggie Jackson, Beverley’s mercurial replacement, made three three-pointers. Jackson went cold after halftime, failing to score, but George scored nine of his 14 points in the third quarter to bring the Clippers within two points in the final minutes.

It was as close as they would come. “Honestly,” Rivers said, “they’re playing better than us right now.

Three takeaways:

  1. Kawhi Leonard joined Bob McAdoo as the only players in franchise history with at least 35 points and 10 rebounds in a playoff game. McAdoo achieved it in 1976.
  2. Clippers center Montrezl Harrell played 15 minutes in Game 1 and his minutes restriction was increased to 22 Wednesday. He scored 10 points but missed six free throws.
  3. After missing five free throws in all of Game 1, the Clippers had six misses midway through Wednesday’s second quarter. They would finish 30 for 39 from the line.

Greif reported from Los Angeles.


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