Clippers show off their depth during dominant win over Mavericks
Constructed with the intent to overwhelm with stars, they instead showed Saturday they can still win without leaning on them.
As Harden and Kawhi Leonard struggled to make shots for a second consecutive night, the Clippers were rarely tested by the Dallas Mavericks in a 107-88 win that was their fourth in their last five games, and one owed to productivity from many.
“Kawhi and James didn’t have a great night,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “And to beat a good team like this says a lot, but our bench is really good tonight as well. So defensively that’s how you’re going to win games because you’re not going to make shots every single night. And tonight we showed that.”
The former MVP has become the Clippers’ primary ballhandler and, after losing the first five games with him in the lineup, the team has won two in a row.
Paul George scored a team-high 25 points and Russell Westbrook looked like a different player than the one who struggled through a season-low 14 minutes only 24 hours earlier. However, the Clippers would not have run away from the Mavericks for one of their season’s most convincing victories without Terance Mann, Ivica Zubac and Norman Powell.
Mann scored a season-high 17 points, his first four baskets all in the paint for the Clippers (7-8). Powell continued the best statistical start of his career by scoring 15 points off the bench on a perfect shooting night, making all four of his shots, including all three of his three-pointers and all four free throws. And Zubac produced his third double-double this season with 11 points and 14 rebounds.
When the Clippers’ lead was trimmed to 13 midway through the fourth quarter, Powell pushed the ball upcourt and Mann cut backdoor for a dunk. One possession later, Mann collected an offensive rebound off of Leonard’s fifth missed three-pointer of the game and tipped it back for a 16-point lead. With its comeback attempt blunted, Dallas pulled its starters two minutes later, with almost five minutes still to play in the game.
If Westbrook’s change in role, transforming from a starter to a reserve, is to remain tenable, Saturday was a best-case blueprint in how.
One night after appearing as though he was trying, unsuccessfully, to shoot himself into a rhythm against New Orleans while going 1-for-8, he was far more judicious with his shot selection, taking only three shots entering the third quarter. But by then he already had five assists and five rebounds.
“Tonight I probably shot the ball twice until the fourth quarter maybe,” Westbrook said. “But I know that I’m able to do everything else on the floor, defend at a high level, rebound, pass and impact winning.”
Westbrook finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. He also drew one charge.
“When he was playing with that kind of energy, it brings it for everyone,” Lue said. “It was good to see Russ play well. We need him. He’s important to our team.”
Harden said Westbrook’s role change “is probably internally frustrating for him, you know what I mean, just because you want to start, but I mean I think tonight he did a really good job of embracing and coming out there and just playing some really good basketball, taking shots and attacking the rim when necessary and then making some really good passes as well. And then defensively just being active. So he did it tonight, he did a really good job.”
During their past two games, Leonard has shot 10-for-29, with several attempts coming up short. Lue said he was not concerned about Leonard wearing down physically, after playing all 15 games, the most he has played consecutively since 2019, because though he played 15 straight in 2020, as well, that stretch was interrupted for months by the NBA’s COVID-related pause.
During the past two games, Harden had made four of his last 16 shots. He has attempted double-digit shots in four games, and nine or fewer five times.
“I’m not worried about me,” Harden said. “I’m good enough and I’ll put the work in enough on a day-to-day basis consistently to get going. So it’s not about me. I’m worried about winning the game and tonight was a great example of that.”
Clippers guard Russell Westbrook said he remained committed to helping the team win as he embraces shifting from the starting lineup to the bench.
It wasn’t just who was scoring that was different, but how. In a league where the philosophy of layups and three-pointers has become the dominant play style, the Clippers build their offense around their stars’ ability to create midrange shots. But against Dallas, only 5% of their shots were from the midrange, their lowest share since the season’s second game, as they pounded Dallas (10-6) on second-chance points (25 to 10) and points in the paint (54 to 32). Not coincidentally, 50.5% of their points were scored inside the paint, their second-highest share of this season.
Meanwhile, Dallas pushed its already heliocentric offense to almost absurd lengths after needing more than a quarter and a half — 19 minutes of game play, to be exact — for any Maverick not named either Kyrie Irving or Luka Doncic to score a basket.
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