Clippers hope to give home fans something to shout about in Game 5
Tyronn Lue was his typical, composed self Sunday night after his team’s second consecutive road victory tied its first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks 2-2 — until the final seconds of his postgame videoconference.
Raising his right hand into a fist, the coach of the Clippers thumped a table.
“Clipper fans, if you’re listening, we need” — bang! — “your energy” — bang! — “come Wednesday,” Lue said. “We’re ready, baby.”
The call to action ahead of Wednesday night’s Game 5 at Staples Center generated hundreds of shares on social media.
But will it generate a home win? That would be a first.
After the NBA resumed last season inside a fan-free Florida campus, then returned to home markets this season in front of sparse crowds — if spectators were allowed to return at all — teams have come to understand that home-court advantage is still present, though perhaps not as powerful. Road teams were 16-16 in the playoffs through Monday, with seven making 40% or more of their three-point attempts. There has been no series in which home teams have put out the welcome mat more than Clippers-Mavericks, the first series since 2017 to begin with four consecutive victories by the visitor.
“Home court does mean a lot,” Lue said Tuesday. “It’s just both teams play well on the opposing team’s floor.”
Who tanked to avoid playing whom in the NBA playoffs is last week’s news. The Lakers and Clippers enter Game 5 of their series in pure survival mode.
The Mavericks made 35 of their 70 three-point tries during two games in Los Angeles, unfazed as the allowable crowd size jumped from just shy of the nearly 3,000 allowed during the regular season’s final games to nearly 7,000 for the postseason.
The Clippers responded in Dallas by shooting 40.6% from deep, while also making 55 of their 89 shots inside the arc, during their two-game rebound that has evened the series.
“Hopefully the mandates are lifted some more and we get more fans in there, we continue to have as packed crowds as possible and have our fan base behind us 100%,” Clippers guard Reggie Jackson said. “And then when we go on the road, I think we’re enjoying and embracing the idea of loving being hated.”
Hundreds of fans milled outside American Airlines Center in Dallas last week before tipoff, taking pictures in front of life-size cutouts of their favorite Mavericks players and gathering in restaurants blaring music. Once inside the building, more than 17,000 — the largest crowds the Clippers had played in front of in 15 months — created a wall of sound as the games began.
By the end of the Clippers’ two-game stay, Clippers All-Star Paul George — who averaged 24.5 points on 50% shooting from the field in Games 3 and 4 — called the atmosphere “fun.”
“You get to find out this game isn’t the same — isn’t nowhere near the same experience that it is with the fans,” Jackson said. “It was fun to play amongst a rowdy crowd. Now we’re looking forward to playing in front of a crowd who loves us. ”
The Clippers could be without backup center Serge Ibaka for a third consecutive game after back spasms led him to be listed as doubtful, though the lack of a 7-footer hasn’t exactly hurt his team. Of the team’s nine lineups that have played at least five minutes together, four of the top six don’t feature a traditional center, as gauged by plus-minus. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle noted that the Clippers, after starting forward Nicolas Batum in place of center Ivica Zubac, played much faster in Game 4.
“I’ve been through so many wild playoffs series that had all kinds of ups and downs, and wacky stuff like road teams winning and teams struggling at home and all that kind of stuff,” Carlisle said. “You’ve got to treat every day as a one-game day.”
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George lead the Clippers to a Game 4 defeat of the Mavericks, and the series is looking like it could be over.
After injuring his neck during Game 3, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic hasn’t looked as comfortable as he had in Los Angeles — and neither has his team. Center Boban Marjanovic said Tuesday that he can tell how Doncic usually moves his head, and that right now it’s “not like his regular move.” Yet Carlisle expects both Doncic and forward Maxi Kleber (Achilles tendon soreness) to play in front of what Lue hopes will be a home crowd that exits having seen the Clippers finally take advantage of home court.
“Having our first playoffs in a year at home is a little different,” Lue said. “But the fans, you always feed off your fans, the crowds, the energy, what they bring to the arena. When your team doesn’t have it that day, you really need to feed off the fans. Like I said, we’re going to need our fans. We want that place rocking.”
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