It was an epic resurgence for the LA Clippers (particularly Paul George) who were able to dominate the Dallas Mavericks in game 5 and secure an emphatic 154-111 victory and a 3-2 series lead.
The Mavericks opened with a quick opening spurt, scoring 8 points on their first 3 possessions, but after that, it was the Clippers’ game. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard both opened the game on a more aggressive note than earlier in the series, getting to the rim and foul line. It was a huge night for the Clippers’ two stars, who combined for 67 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists on an unbelievably efficient 24-37 from the field. Leonard played 30 minutes while George just played 25, both sitting down the stretch with the game well in hand.
LA was used the play of its stars as a launching pad to dominate game 5 early, taking a 33-18 lead in the first 8 minutes of the contest. When the teams’ second units came on to the floor, the Clippers did something they haven’t done all series: weather the storm. Montrezl Harrell fought against Boban Marjanovic, but it was clear that Boban’s size troubled him on both ends early. However, Paul George’s ability to finally create offense for the second unit, coupled with Mavs backup guard Seth Curry finally missing some shots, allowed the Clippers to hold on to their lead.
After the first frame ended 41-22, the game was already over. Despite Dallas’ best efforts (and, seriously, it is hard to keep up prolonged intensity when you’re being blown out, and it’s impressive that the Mavericks kept looking for a run for as long as they did), the Clippers were able to narrowly win both the second and third quarters en route to an absolute blowout in the fourth quarter.
Dallas’ frustration seemed to mount as the game went on. Luka Doncic, furious with the officials, picked up a technical foul. Tim Hardaway Jr. earned double technicals with Marcus Morris, and was also given a well-deserved flagrant foul for a hit to the head of Paul George on a drive. Rick Carlisle was ejected from the game in the third quarter for not backing down after protesting the officials’ decision to review a play challenged by Doc Rivers. The Clippers kept the pressure on high from the opening tip, and the Mavericks eventually cracked under it.
The Clippers hit Lawler’s Law with 5:10 to play in the third quarter, taking a 100-73 lead, and after Dallas struggled to keep the deficit in the low-20s, LA absolutely ran away with the game in the fourth, stretching the lead as high as 45 points behind some grade-A stat-padding from Montrezl Harrell. Trez has struggled immensely in this series (largely because Rivers has played him in the aforementioned match-up with Boban Marjanovic), so it can only be good for him and the team that he was able to get some run in garbage time and actually look like himself again, finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Everyone was able to get in on the fun: Patrick Patterson and Rodney McGruder hit threes off the bench, Amir Coffey scored his first NBA Playoffs points, and Terance Mann got a noteworthy 14 minutes, including a first-half stint when Reggie Jackson briefly exited after taking a hard hit to the head.
It’s hard to focus too much in tactics in a game that the Clippers were able to so thoroughly dominate from start to finish, but from what could be gleaned, it was a mixed bag for Doc Rivers’ team tonight. They certainly approached the offensive side of the ball with much-needed urgency, finally taking advantage of Dallas’ diminutive lineup and below-average defense by scoring at the rim at will early in the game. Particularly, it was nice to see Paul George play aggressively to get easy looks and free throws. However, while the Clippers survived Harrell’s minutes vs Boban (which overlapped with Reggie Jackson and Lou Williams, the Clippers’ two worst perimeter defenders, playing together), it didn’t feel particularly stable or sustainable. Additionally, the team continued to either assign Reggie Jackson to guard Luka Doncic or willingly concede that switch when Dallas hunted for it–and Luka continued to torch Jackson. The Clippers will have to be better at fighting through screens going forward to prevent opponents from finding those advantageous match-ups.
More important than the details, though, was the spirit of this team. Doc Rivers blasted the team’s effort in Sunday’s game 4, stating that his players and himself had all been “emotionally weak” as the Mavericks made their runs to get back into the game. I wrote Sunday evening that it was Rivers’ job as head coach to get his roster bought in and secure results for a team with championship aspirations. Rotation and scheme aside, game 5 was a resounding affirmation of his ability to do that job.
Now, the Clippers will look ahead to game 6, where they’ll hope to close out the Dallas Mavericks and do what the Lob City LAC teams were never able to do: win a series in fewer than 7 games. Not only would that provide the obvious advantage of advancing and avoiding the potential of falling to the Mavs in an anything-can-happen game 7, but it would also avoid a rest disadvantage in the second round. During the first half of tonight’s double-header, the Denver Nuggets were able to come from behind to defeat the Utah Jazz and stay alive in that series. The Jazz hold a 3-2 lead and could clinch on Thursday as well, but Denver’s loss tonight reduces the likelihood that Utah will have extra days off heading into the second round.
But for now, the Clippers’ sights are set squarely on taking care of business Thursday, as the brilliant Doncic and savvy Rick Carlisle will certainly come with every intention of winning and forcing a game 7.