Clippers fall again to Mavericks, trail 2-0 in series

Mavericks guard Luka Doncic reacts after dunking against Clippers center Ivica Zubac.
Mavericks guard Luka Doncic reacts after dunking against Clippers center Ivica Zubac in the first quarter Tuesday night at Staples Center.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Barely two games into what was supposed to be a postseason of redemption, the Clippers gathered on their own baseline Tuesday night with 4:49 remaining to save a series swiftly heading toward the rocks.

Some of the Clippers’ huddles earlier inside Staples Center in Game 2 had appeared fractious, with defensive miscommunications leading to heated discussion. But after cutting their 13-point deficit from only two minutes earlier to just five after a pair of three-pointers by Marcus Morris — his first of the entire series — this one appeared focused, with players and coaches clapping as coach Tyronn Lue drew on a dry-erase board.

With their postseason resilience and preparedness under scrutiny yet again, the story of the Clippers’ final four minutes was the same as their previous 92 in this postseason — one missed opportunity after another, all leading to a 127-121 defeat and a two-game deficit with the series now heading to Dallas for the third and fourth games.


After a Game 2 loss to Dallas put the Clippers in an 0-2 hole in the playoff series, they downplayed any worries. At least they can’t blow a 3-1 lead this time.

Instead of the Clippers pounding their chests after a game-saving recovery, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic ran from one side of the court to the other in celebration. After 39 points, seven assists and seven rebounds, he waved to a crowd of easily 100 fans who had stayed behind, once the Clippers’ fans had filed out.

After a pair of layups in the final three minutes — one on Patrick Beverley to push Dallas ahead by seven, flexing after it went in, and the other 90 seconds later to go up nine — he ran into the stands behind his bench to shake hands with Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki.

And this was after Doncic made one high-arching three-pointer in the third quarter that made Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes stand up and swing an arm in disbelief.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer took in all of the postgame scene while standing several rows deep, talking with a team executive.

His fourth-seeded team was built to win 16 games of playoff basketball. Now it is in a perilous position two losses into the first round.

Highlights from the Mavericks’ win over the Clippers in the Western Conference quarterfinals on Tuesday.

The last time a higher seed fell behind 2-0 and went on to win the series was Boston, in 2017. Since the playoffs expanded in 1984, higher seeds have trailed 2-0 in 38 instances — and gone on to win the series just six times, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

“I’ve been down my whole life and succeeded so I’m not worried about it,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “You’ve got to win four games and that’s what it is. They won two games on our home court, now we’ve got to go return the favor.”

Take a time machine back two years to the moment the Clippers acquired their star duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and this was the kind of start the franchise might have dreamed of. Leonard scored 30 points before halftime in Tuesday’s Game 2 of this first-round playoff series, his most in any half of the postseason in his decorated career. He finished with 41.

George, determined to bounce back from his off night in Game 1, scored his team’s first three baskets, had 17 by halftime and finished with 28.

His crossover of Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis in the first half was so quick and unexpected that it put the 7-foot-3 Porzingis on his backside in the paint as Clippers reserves pointed and howled.

Clippers guard Paul George is defended by Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith and center Kristaps Porzingis.
Clippers guard Paul George is defended by Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) and center Kristaps Porzingis (6) in the third quarter at the Staples Center on Tuesday.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

But with little support from their supporting cast, neither could pull off the kind of improbable comeback that had defined their regular season. Morris’ three-pointers sent the Clippers into their timeout down five — he had missed his previous nine three-point attempts to start the series — but they failed to score for two more minutes. Once, George was lulled into taking a three-pointer after multiple dribbles instead of attacking Porzingis off the dribble.

Morris finished with nine points, making three of his nine shots before fouling out.

The Mavericks “got everything they wanted defensively tonight,” Lue said. “I thought the game was pretty easy for them.”

Their frantic rally attempt came within four points with 12.8 seconds to play, but Dallas’ Josh Richardson made two free throws and the crowd — Clippers fans, at least, left quietly, having seen postseason disappointment before.

Times reporters covering the Lakers-Suns and Clippers-Mavericks playoff series provide insight and analysis into what happened during Game 2.

The Clippers had five days to prepare for Game 1. They had two to make adjustments before Game 2. The extra time has yielded few answers. Doncic has been held to five points combined in two fourth quarters, yet Dallas has been able to stave off every Clippers rally.

“It’s only what, down 0-2?” said guard Reggie Jackson, who scored 15 points off the bench. “All we can do is control what we can control so next time we’re going to come out here and compete and our main objective is to get one win and then go from there.”

Doncic’s ability to make the difficult appear sublime is, by now, expected. Yet it was when the Clippers continued to struggle to limit the rest of the roster that frustration bubbled and their ability to regain control of the series appeared to wobble most. Tim Hardaway scored 28 points, Maxi Kleber added 13 and Porzingis a quiet 20.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has his shot challenged by Mavericks center Willie Cauley-Stein.
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has his shot challenged by Mavericks center Willie Cauley-Stein during Game 2 on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

When backup center Willie Cauley-Stein was left alone for a lob dunk in the second quarter, Clippers guard Rajon Rondo and center Serge Ibaka spent the next timeout venting frustrations at each other over the miscommunication, with Ibaka eventually sitting apart from the rest of the roster to cool off.

“There’s no magic, we just got to come out and play basketball, get stops,” Leonard said. “That’s the name of the game right now. They are shooting too great in the first two games.”

What the Mavericks did to the Clippers through two games offensively — a deep roster, full of hot shooters — was supposed to be the Clippers’ plan to plow through the Western Conference after they led the league in three-point shooting during the regular season.

They have now made 23 of their 73 three-point attempts through two games, the kind of shooting that appears to give them only a slim shot of recovering.

“We have to rise to the occasion,” George said. “Fact of the matter is if we don’t, we’re done for. But there’s no level of concern. We just got to play our game. We got to play through this.”

Clippers-Mavericks first-round playoff schedule.
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)