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Column: Clippers’ loss just goes to show that anything can happen in these playoffs

The Mavericks' Luka Doncic is guarded by the Clippers' Kawhi Leonard during Wednesday night's game.
The Mavericks’ Luka Doncic is guarded by the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard during Wednesday night’s game.
(Associated Press)

Dallas forward Kristaps Porzingis couldn’t resist making a sly joke Wednesday night after he and the seventh-seeded Mavericks had earned a wire-to-wire victory over the second-seeded Clippers and tied their playoff series at one game each.

“Obviously, we wanted to get a win on the road,” he said, his smile acknowledging the strangeness of the circumstances that have removed home-court advantage from the NBA playoff equation.

If this were a “normal” playoff series — remember those? — both teams would be packing for Dallas and settling in for the third and fourth games. Instead, they all returned to their hotel rooms on the Disney World campus near Orlando, Fla., after the Mavericks’ convincing 127-114 win. The scenery won’t be much different on Friday in Game 3, except for substituting virtual fans wearing Mavericks gear for the virtual fans in Clippers gear that were shown on the message boards in the gym during the first two games.

The early stages of this unprecedented postseason tournament have produced several surprises, highlighted by the West-leading Lakers losing to No. 8 Portland and the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks falling to the No. 8 Orlando Magic on Tuesday. The Clippers’ loss on Wednesday fueled the sense that anything can happen in the next few weeks.

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“I felt that way coming into the whole thing, really,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “Look, there’s no travel. You’ve got the same environment virtually every game. The digital boards look different and stuff like that. But there’s a great opportunity here for everybody.”

The Mavericks seized that opportunity on Wednesday and never let it go. They outshot the Clippers and outrebounded them and committed fewer turnovers. In the greatest indignity for the Clippers, the Mavericks’ bench outscored theirs, 47-37. The Mavericks were more scrappy and more resourceful, taking on the Clippers’ identity and wearing it more effectively than the Clippers did.

“They’re a good team,” Paul George said during a postgame Zoom session, an ice pack taped to his right shoulder. “It just goes to show you the West is tough. The eighth seed just beat the first seed [on Tuesday] and the West is tough. It’s a tough conference. Any given night any team — especially here — can win, and we’re full-on seeing that. So it’s no surprise.”

Porzingis had 23 points in more than 36 minutes in experiencing his first postseason win. “We knew after the first game that we were right there and we could compete with probably one of the favorites to win it all,” he said of the Clippers’ 118-110 win in Game 1, during which he was ejected in the third quarter after picking up a second technical foul. “We came into the game ready. Felt like we did a pretty good job of keeping our composure throughout the game.“

The Mavericks' Kristaps Porzingis faces defensive pressure from the Clippers' Reggie Jackson in the first half Wednesday.
(Associated Press)

Luka Doncic, who had 42 points in the opener, was in foul trouble by the third quarter on Wednesday but scored 28 points and had eight rebounds and seven assists in just over 28 minutes. The number that pleased him most of all was that he cut his turnovers from 11 in Game 1 to one on Wednesday. “That was the only thing I looked at,” he said. “Ten possessions more than the last game. That’s one of the reasons we won.”

He never lost confidence after the Mavericks lost the opener, but believing you can win is different from closing out a playoff victory against a team like the Clippers that’s loaded with playoff veterans and is expected to go far. Dallas faced a few Clipper surges but had answers to every challenge. Limiting George was a focus for the Mavericks, Carlisle said, and they held him to 14 points on four-for-17 shooting.

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Most important of all for the Mavericks was that Doncic, the 21-year-old Slovenian wonderkid, and Porzingis, 25, got their first taste of postseason success.

Game 2 for the Clippers showed that the team misses Patrick Beverley’s influential voice and his game-winning intangibles.

“Winning in the playoffs is difficult. You’ve got to deal with a lot of things coming at you,” Carlisle said. “You’ve got to deal with great players that are coming at you at 100 miles an hour and the whistles blowing. You’ve got to deal with situations where it’s tough because you’re getting decent looks but they’re not going in but you’ve got to try to stay together. You’ve got to deal with offense-defense substitutions at the end of the game, which no players like.

“And the whole notion of playoff basketball, it’s everybody combined working to give each other energy and to do one little thing at a time as you go through 48 minutes and thousands of events. That’s what this is all about. Individual statistics really are out the window because it’s very binary. It’s about winning and losing, and tonight our guys showed a lot of poise throughout the game. The Clippers are super-talented. Very aggressive, very physical, and we did a good job of holding up under a lot of pressure, and that was great to see.”

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Doncic’s first sample of playoff success left him wanting more. That’s not good news for the Clippers. “Any series we go in we’re going to believe that we can win, for sure,” Doncic said. “If you don’t believe it you’re not supposed to win, so you’ve got to believe every time.”

A little belief can go a long way, especially when it feels like almost anything can happen.

Elliott reported from Los Angeles.


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