LAC opened the playoffs with a disappointing loss. Let’s take a look at 5 takeaways from Clippers – Mavericks game 1 as Ty Lue will look to adjust and improve for Tuesday’s game 2.
This was the formula for a Mavericks win.
This might feel like it’s downplaying a loss, but I do think it’s significant to note that if you were someone who picked Clippers in 5, or Clippers in 6, like me, you were anticipating Dallas picking up a win or two in this series. Naturally, that doesn’t make LAC dropping a game any less disappointing, and it certainly doesn’t make them dropping the first game of the series any less staggering. But I do think it’s important to remember that this is only game 1 of a 7-game series (for example, last year four teams lost game 1 and then went on to win the series, including the Lakers twice and Denver in the second round against LAC).
I also think that, if you said “I think the Mavericks will win 1 or 2 games in this series,” you probably envisioned how they would win those one or two games. And most likely, it was a combination of a few different factors, a perfect storm scenario where Dallas was hot from three, the Clippers were cold from three, and Luka was upstoppable. Well, Dallas shot 17-36 from three, good for 47.2%, a mark they only beat 5 times in the regular season. The Clippers, on the other hand, shot 11-40 from three–that’s 28%, which is their fourth-worst shooting night this season. There are other factors at play here than raw luck: the Clippers’ intensity was not good, their execution didn’t create a ton of high-quality looks, and as they brought extra help to Luka Dallas generated high-quality looks.
Still, scheme alone doesn’t account for this swing. Dallas will not shoot 47.2% from three for the entire series, and the Clippers will not shoot 28% from three for the entire series. In fact, this could very well be the Mavs’ best and Clippers’ worst shooting night of the series when all is said and done. The Clippers shot worse in game 1 than either team shot in a game during last year’s series, and Dallas’ shooting was better than any of their games last time around, and second only to the Clippers’ 40-point victory in game 5.
The Clippers don’t punch first.
Blame it on the Clippers’ age, blame it on them being rusty after a week off (plus their important players resting in the final two games of the season), blame it on the afternoon start, blame it on Dallas being more hungry as the underdog seeking revenge from last season… I don’t really care what you blame it on. My top concern with this Clippers team–and this isn’t a game 1 overreaction, because they have done this all year long–is that they do not come out of the gates strong. They never, ever punch first, and the frequent result of their lax attitude early in big games against good teams is them receiving a punch in the mouth instead. It’s why I said the team’s slow start to games was my biggest “dislike” a month ago on the Clipset pod, and how I explained picking the Clippers in 6 instead of 5 in my series preview last week, predicting that LAC would lose homecourt advantage in one of these first two games in LA.
Whatever you want to attribute the Clippers’ poor starts to, it is very clearly something that cannot stick if they want to be a championship level team. They will either learn to start games with intensity, or they will fall short. There will be 12:30 tips in the Western Conference Finals and NBA Finals too. You can’t just give away games because they start early. Maybe everyone needs to go to bed earlier the night before and get up super early, or maybe they need to bring in a trainer to get them through better pregame workouts. But whether it’s matinees or lackluster beginnings to evening games, it’s a problem they have to solve.
Luka is just great. It’s more important to be prepared to weather storms than try to prevent them.
There has been a lot of fretting about how great Luka was in game 1. Like… too much. In this series last year, Luka averaged 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists. In game 1, he put up 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists. Remember that last year, LAC won in 6 by a total of +58 points. He had 38/9/9 in game 6, which the Clippers won by 14 points. You can win these games. You do not need to panic. Luke is going to his tough shots, he is going to make amazing plays, and he’s even going to beat you–despite an amazing first half, it wasn’t Doncic’s best overall game (very good, just not his absolute peak), and at some point he might put up something like the 43/17/13 line that won Dallas game 4 last year.
Now, that doesn’t mean that the Clippers can’t do some thing better. Switching the Doncic pick and roll is probably the right move, since you don’t want to give him a driving advantage by fighting through the screen or give the rest of the Mavs a 4-on-3 out of the short roll by trapping. As we learned last year, Ivica Zubac is pretty effective at using his frame and positioning to make Luka’s shots difficult inside the three point arc. The huge, slow Zubac is not suited to chasing Doncic out 30 feet away from the basket and containing him in space. Last year, LAC switched Zubac onto Dorian Finney-Smith so he’d be available as a help defender on Luka’s drives instead of stuck as the primary defender after switching a ball screen.
At times in game 1, the Clippers switched Zu onto Luka but then brought an aggressive double if Doncic attempted to pull the ball out and isolate against Zu in space (this double is better than a straight trap against the pick and roll because the pass out of it comes to a less dangerous position than the short roller at the free throw line, and the pass has to cover a greater distance, giving Zubac more time to recover and join the rotation defensively). This worked pretty well! But it was inconsistent, and Zu never seemed to be able to trust that assistance was coming. The team can also “pre-switch” the PnR–when Porzingis comes up to set the screen, a different Clipper follows him and switches and Zubac latches on to whichever wing was left alone.
But no matter what you do, Luka is going to get his. He hasn’t had a single-digit scoring game all season, and it only happened once last year, in a game where he played less than 2 minutes before being injured. Luka scored 26.9 points per game in Dallas’ losses this season. The Mavs lost 9 of his 25 games with 30 or more points, including a 44-point outing. You can beat the Mavs when Luka has 30. The Clippers won games last year where Luka had 38 and 42 points. The most important thing isn’t trying to stop him. It’s staying disciplined in your coverages even when you do everything perfect and he hits an impossible shot so that your entire defense doesn’t unravel and start allowing big games to guys like Tim Hardaway Jr.
Reggie Jackson + other Clippers and Mavericks rotation notes.
I think we all sort of figured coming into this series that Reggie Jackson had won the race for the 9th man role due to his consistent regular season play, filling in as a starter for 43 of the team’s 72 games and lifting them to a number of victories. Sometimes players who are very helpful in the regular season have flaws in their games that really limit their ability to be on the floor in the playoffs (think Montrezl Harrell). Reggie Jackson still seems to be that guy. If he stays in the Clippers’ rotation after a dreadful game 1, he’ll hit some shots as the series wears on–remember last year, he shot 53% from deep… and was still so bad that he played himself out of the rotation. It’s decision-making and defense. He just doesn’t have a good enough feel for the game to make the right decisions on when to drive, shoot, or pass on offense, and he is mentally lost and physically overmatched on defense.
But even more noteworthy than Reggie’s inability to competently play the 9th man role was that he wasn’t really the 9th man at all. When Patrick Beverley picked up his second foul in the first qurater, it was Jackson who replaced him, not Rondo. When the dust settled, Rondo had played 24 minutes to Jackson’s 21 and Beverley’s 17. That’s just horrendous minute distribution from Lue. 24 isn’t a horrible total for Rondo, but he should have played more throughout the game and been off the court to close–and Beverley only getting 17 minutes despite making a positive impact just feels like an omission. Lots of folks are saying that Terance Mann should be the 9th man over Reggie, and that’s fair, but the much more important rotational adjustment to make going forward is for that role to be much smaller, with Beverley and Rondo as the two heavily featured guards.
It was also interesting to see the Clippers go heavily to small ball so early in the series, which in my view violated my last takeaway and overreacted to Luka hitting tough shots in the first half. Nicolas Batum on the second unit is an incredible luxury and he had a strong game 1 with Marcus Morris going ice cold (0-6 from three), but it was still surprising to only see 13 minutes from Serge Ibaka, who made a really nice well-rounded impact with 8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and 2 blocks. For Dallas, only 7 guys played substantial minutes, with every starter passing 30 minutes and just Jalen Brunson and Josh Richardson playing substantial minutes off the bench. At some point, the Mavs will need to deploy a backup big man for more than a few minutes at the time, and it doesn’t seem like Rick Carlisle is fully satisfied with what Dwight Powell, Nicolo Melli, or Willie Cauley-Stein as a mainstay.
The Clippers need more volume scoring.
Of the 7 playoff games that have concluded so far, 6 of the winners had a 30-point scorer. While neither Paul George or Kawhi Leonard had individually awful games (PG’s first half was a flashback to the bubble, but he was really good in the second half and Kawhi was fine throughout), neither of them had a great game either. It’s honestly a little worrying. The Clippers did not have a 40-point scorer in a game this season. Paul and Kawhi combined for 24 games with 30 points or more–fewer than the 26 that Luka Doncic had by himself.
It’s well known that in the playoffs, games slow down and get more physical, half-court offenses stall, and a lot of times it comes down to tough individual shot-making to bail a team out. Sure, when things are good for the Clippers, it’ll be harmonious ball movement and open threes from all over the floor. But when things aren’t good, like in the fourth quarter of game 1, you need tough shot-making from your stars. Those two guys combining for 49 points on 17-40 shooting is not good enough. This is not something that a “true point guard” is going to fix–Rondo was on the court to close last night as LAC lost the final 6 minutes 18-5 (Rajon had a really good game overall, but down the stretch Dallas absolutely gave him no respect and brought doubles on Kawhi, and he was not able to deliver with the defense leaving him all alone).
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