Column: Clippers flip the script on Mavericks, and it might be a done deal
Their offense was explosive.
Their defense was impregnable.
And suddenly, the Clippers are ahead of the Dallas Mavericks in their first-round playoff series.
The official ledger indicates they are level at two games apiece, but the Clippers hold the obvious edge, as they have home-court advantage and momentum on their side.
In a matter of hours Sunday, the Clippers replaced the Lakers as the Los Angeles team most likely to advance to the next round.
Doesn’t matter that the Lakers’ series against the Phoenix Suns is also tied at 2-2.
Highlights from the Los Angeles Clippers’ 106-81 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on May 30, 2021, in Dallas.
As the Lakers started assessing the implications of Anthony Davis’ groin strain, Kawhi Leonard was barreling to the basket at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Paul George was sinking jumpers.
And Luka Doncic was grimacing, the Mavericks’ best player diminished by a strained neck.
If the Clippers winning this series was unimaginable after they dropped the first two games at home, then not advancing to the next stage of this postseason became equally unfathomable in the wake of their 106-81 victory in Game 4.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing on the defensive end, getting rebounds, getting stops,” Leonard said.
Save the punchlines about the Clippers for another day. Table the conversations about the Clippers Curse for another series.
Two years into Leonard and George’s partnership, the Clippers are finally playing how they envisioned.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are sharp for the Clippers, who ran away from an ailing Luka Doncic and Dallas 106-81 to reclaim home-court advantage.
On Friday, they demonstrated their resilience by erasing an early 19-point deficit. On Sunday, they showcased their defensive potential with a performance for the ages.
The 81 points to which they held the Mavericks matched the fewest allowed in the postseason in franchise history.
The Mavericks’ point totals in the first three games: 113, 127 and 108.
Their first-quarter point totals in those games: 33, 35 and 34.
Dallas’ first-quarter point total on Sunday: 22.
Starting a smaller lineup that included reserve forward Nicolas Batum instead of center Ivica Zubac, the Clippers conceded some early jumpers to Kristaps Porzingis but managed to shut down the Mavericks’ three-point shooting.
The Mavericks, who made 55 of 109 three-point shots in the previous three games, were limited to one-of-eight shooting from behind the arc in the opening quarter and five of 30 over the entire game.
Some of that was the Mavericks coming back to Earth. But the Clippers were also responsible, as they forced the likes of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber to play inside the three-point line.
Batum proved particularly effective, credited with four steals, including three in the first quarter. The team’s defensive rotations were sharp, highlighted by how Leonard soared to block a shot by Doncic in the post, as well as a shot by Dorian Finney-Smith.
“The pace and speed he’s playing with is what we need,” coach Tyronn Lue said.
On the offensive end as well.
Leonard followed up high-scoring performances in Games 2 and 3 with a dominant first half in Game 4.
“He’s all-out driving, attacking, putting pressure on them, their bigs at the rim,” George said.
Leonard’s first basket came on a reverse layup. Leonard drove by Porzingis for his second. He bowled over 7-foot-4 Boban Marjanovic for another. He went coast-to-coast for two more points. He dunked in transition. He dunked again, this time from the baseline for another dunk after spinning around Hardaway.
He scored 17 of his game-high 29 points in the opening half, making eight of 10 shots. And that was only the offensive part of his game.
Leonard and George had a combined 35 points by the break, at which point the Clippers were ahead 61-45.
The advantage extended to as many as 28 points in the second half.
The perceived shift in momentum has as much to do with the Mavericks as it does with the Clippers — specifically how Doncic looked.
Doncic was limited to 19 points. He made only nine of 24 shots from the field, including one of seven three-point attempts. He had six rebounds and six assists, but also four turnovers.
Asked about his neck, Doncic replied: “I don’t think that matters right now. We lost by 20.”
They could lose by 20 again, and again, if the literal pain in his neck doesn’t subside.
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