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Clippers are struggling one-on-one against Mavericks. Five takeaways from Game 2

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic drives to the basket against Clippers guard Terance Mann
Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic drives to the basket against Clippers’ Terance Mann during Game 2 of the teams’ first-round NBA playoff series Wednesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
(Kim Klement / Associated Press)

The Clippers’ 127-114 loss to Dallas on Wednesday evened their first-round playoff series at 1-1 entering Friday’s Game 3.

Five takeaways from Game 2:

1. During the regular season, only Atlanta’s Trae Young and Portland’s Damian Lillard ran more pick-and-rolls than the 1,645 of Dallas guard Luka Doncic, according to Synergy Sports. And of the 52 guards who ran at least 500 such sets, only Lillard and Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving scored more points per possession from them than the 1.106 generated by Doncic. Naturally, then, containing Dallas’ opportunities in the pick-and-roll looms large in the outcome of this series.

After a disciplined effort in Game 1, the Clippers’ defense wasn’t as sharp Wednesday. Kawhi Leonard termed the pick-and-roll coverage “OK.”

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The Clippers’ defense against pick-and-roll ballhandlers ranks eighth out of the 16-team playoff field, and they’ve held rollers to the third-best average of 0.938 points per possession. It hasn’t been all doom and gloom.

Wednesday’s loss moreso highlighted their struggles guarding one-on-one. The Mavericks are earning 1.22 points per possession in isolation this series. Contrast that with the fact that during the regular season the Clippers ranked fifth by allowing only 0.832 points per isolation possession.

The breakdowns were “more just individual defense than pick-and-roll defense,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I just thought they got matchups. By the end of the game, everybody was a matchup. They were just looking us in the eye, taking us off the dribble, playing draw and kick basketball.”

One such mismatch came with 1:44 remaining in the fourth quarter, when Doncic iced the victory by blowing past Clippers backup Lou Williams for a short floater and a 12-point lead.

“It was a lot of one-on-one, just getting by us, getting easy layups,” Leonard said. “I feel no weak side there. Just not being too disciplined in those aspects of those one-on-one situations. Fouling jump shooters too much, letting them get by on easy drives. That’s what I feel.”

2. Four of Dallas’ five starters made their postseason debuts Monday in Game 1. But even in a loss, the first taste of the NBA playoffs was important.

“One playoff game goes a long way to finding out what it’s all about,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said before tipoff.

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By Wednesday, the Mavericks no longer looked like playoff neophytes and never trailed. Dallas hadn’t won a playoff game while leading wire to wire since the 2011 Western Conference Finals.

“The whole notion of playoff basketball is just 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,” Carlisle said after Wednesday’s victory. “Individual statistics really are out the window because it’s very binary. It’s about winning and losing. Tonight our guys showed a lot of poise throughout the game. The Clippers are super talented, very aggressive, very physical. We did a good job holding up under a lot of pressure and that was great to see.”

3. Reggie Jackson’s performance starting in place of Patrick Beverley was encouraging at times — and yet it’s unclear whether he’s the answer at starting guard should Beverley miss more games because of his strained left calf.

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Since Detroit bought out Jackson in February and he signed with the Clippers to team up with close friend Paul George, Jackson has injected offense and taken over ballhandling responsibilities with the second unit but also made head-scratching decisions both with the ball in his hands and on defense. That “up-and-down” play, as Rivers assessed it, continued during the NBA restart.

“On his good nights, I think he’s very solid defensively; he is more of a point guard than a scorer and gets everybody going and then allows it to come to him,” Rivers said before Game 2’s tipoff. “I guess on his bad nights is when he tries to force things and then he takes a step back defensively, so we need the one that really sets the tone defensively first, point guard, and then play from there.”

Jackson was removed less than five minutes into Wednesday’s first quarter and the start portended one of his “bad nights.” Clippers starters were outscored by seven points in those minutes. And yet he was a key factor in a second-quarter comeback that left them down five at halftime. Jackson’s three three-pointers within six minutes in the second quarter helped cut a 12-point Clippers deficit to six.

He scored two more points the rest of the game, however, and the self-confidence that saw him fire up his second-quarter three-pointers backfired. With the Clippers trailing by three with 10:17 remaining in the third quarter, Jackson drove into the lane in transition with four defenders back on defense. Instead of passing out to Leonard — who was open and calling for the ball, hand raised, on the opposite wing — Jackson attempted a hook shot from 12 feet that missed. Dallas grabbed the rebound and pushed the ball upcourt for a dunk. It was one of numerous examples where the Clippers’ own decisions kept them from closing the gap on Dallas.

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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.”

If Beverley can’t play Friday in Game 3, might Rivers turn to Landry Shamet or even rookie Terance Mann for opening minutes at guard?

4. Lost in the well-deserved praise earned by Doncic after scoring 28 points, which brought his playoff total to 70 points in two days, was the contribution by Dallas’ backup point guard, Trey Burke. Burke was only signed in late June as a replacement player because forward Willie Cauley-Stein opted out of the restart. Yet he entered the fourth quarter with 11:37 remaining after Doncic picked up his fifth foul.

It was a tenuous moment, despite Dallas’ 13-point lead, as the Clippers reinserted starters to trim their deficit with Doncic gone.

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Dallas rebuffed that effort thanks to the contribution of Burke, their unlikely steadying hand. He scored five points and blocked one of Leonard’s shots during the next four minutes and finished with 16 points in 18 minutes with only one turnover.

Between Burke, former Clipper Boban Marjanovic (13 points) and Rivers’ son-in-law, Seth Curry (15), Dallas outscored the Clippers’ bench, 47-37.

Dallas center Kristaps Porzingis was ejected Monday after two technicals. He said he was provoked, something the Clippers have been accused of doing before.

“Their bench outplayed our bench and our starters,” Rivers said. “Between Seth, Bobi and Burke, I think they missed like three shots, four shots. Their percentage was insane. A lot of it was just beating us off the dribble, making plays, running pick-and-rolls, switches. Bobi played fantastic for them tonight. You just give them credit.”

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5. Wednesday would have been the Clippers’ 13th game this season playing with a full roster until Beverley’s scratch meant another night of attempting to generate cohesion out of varied lineups. That lack of rhythm showed early in both defensive miscommunications and an at-times stagnant offense.

The Mavericks assisted on 56% of their made baskets. The Clippers were at 43%, and their starters combined for seven assists.

“That’s not how we’ve played all year,” Rivers said. “If we play like that, we can’t win.”


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