Column: Tyronn Lue pushes all the right buttons in Clippers’ win at Dallas

Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson fouls Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard.
Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson fouls Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard during the second half on Monday in Dallas.
(Brandon Wade / Associated Press)

The Clippers had two nightmares hovering over them Monday.

The first was the 51-point pummeling they absorbed from the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 27, in the third game of the season, a memory that soured as it aged. The second nightmare was of more recent vintage, born during a careless and too-passive loss at New Orleans on Sunday that had coach Tyronn Lue exercising his vocabulary in rarely heard profane directions.

The darkness lifted Monday at Dallas. Although the Clippers let an early 14-point lead slip and the Mavericks moved within four in the fourth quarter, the Clippers held on for a 109-99 victory to open a two-game set that will conclude Wednesday at American Airlines Center. The Clippers improved to 7-0 in the second game of back-to-backs.


Their effort was especially impressive because it so quickly followed a terrible effort at New Orleans, one that led Lue to harshly (but deservedly) criticize his team’s defense. The determination the Clippers lacked Sunday reappeared Monday.

“Back-to-backs test your manhood. They test who you are and test your character,” Lue said on a videoconference. “I thought tonight we responded very well, especially holding this team to 99 points after giving up 135 [on Sunday].”

The Clippers, down two starters in the second half, lost 135-115 at New Orleans, leaving coach Tyronn Lue in a foul mood about his team’s poor defense.

March 14, 2021

Paul George (five for 18) hit two key three-point shots in the fourth quarter as the Clippers (26-15) won for only the second time in six games. George finished with 15 points as all five Clippers starters hit double figures, led by Kawhi Leonard’s 22.

George’s pull-up three-point shot over Luka Doncic for the Clippers’ final basket was the dagger. To Lue, George’s tenacity on the defensive end balanced out his shooting woes.

“His defensive effort on Luka was great. I thought he got some deflections,” Lue said, though Doncic had 25 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds. “You’re not going to make shots every night. We understand that. But your attention to detail, your defensive presence is always going to be felt and needed and I thought he did that tonight.”

Lue had Marcus Morris start at power forward in place of Nicolas Batum, and the switch seemed to help both players. Morris led the Clippers in scoring in the first half with 12 points and finished with 14. Batum had six points in the first half and 12 overall for the second unit.


“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” Lue said of the lineup change. “I really wanted to do it after a couple wins … I was trying to get Marcus jump-started and get him going.”

It worked well enough that Lue said he intends to keep Morris in the starting lineup.

Dallas Mavericks forward Tim Hardaway Jr. battles Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr.
Dallas Mavericks forward Tim Hardaway Jr. battles Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. for space during the first half on Monday in Dallas.
(Brandon Wade / Associated Press)

The Clippers again were without energetic guard Patrick Beverley, who missed the trip because of knee soreness, and Serge Ibaka, who left Sunday’s game because of lower back soreness. Ivica Zubac started and played 35 minutes, his most as a Clipper — and, in something of a minor miracle, was called for only one foul.

The Clippers wanted to regain their old identity of being tough defensively, and they did it Monday without committing bad fouls. Leonard said Sunday he was very concerned over the team’s inconsistency, and Zubac said players knew it without having to hear it directly from Leonard.

“We all know what is our situation and we all know we got to do much better and we can do so much better,” Zubac said. “That level of play is not acceptable, the way we been playing for the last 10 games, and when your star player who brings it every night says that, you’ve got to bring it too. If your star player brings it every night, you can’t be the one who’s not bringing it. We’ve all got to be better; we all know that.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, NBA teams have adjusted their routines, particularly practice, which has led to a lack of continuity this season.

March 14, 2021

The Clippers had a solid start and built a 14-point lead, though that shrank to 31-23 after one quarter. Doncic began to find a stroke from three-point range early in the second quarter, leading a barrage that put Dallas ahead 44-43. The lead switched hands a few times before the Clippers assembled an 8-2 push to take a 55-50 lead into halftime.

The Mavericks’ shooting went cold to start the second half, with only one of their first five shots — a dunk by Kristaps Porzingis — going in.

Porzingis’ remarkable range kept Dallas in it, but Batum helped the Clippers pull away and take an 85-78 lead after three. No Clippers lead ever seems completely safe, but when George hit a three — his first in five attempts — to give them a 93-84 lead, they put themselves in good position.

The clouds lifted above them, and they know what they must do to prepare for future turbulence.

“We won tonight. You want to have the same mind-set, bring that same energy out every game,” Leonard said.

“There’s going to be nights when we don’t have legs or juice and shots come up short but we’ve got to come out with the same mind-set. ... It’s all about consistency.”