That was an incredible game. But for Clippers fans, it was a highly frustrating one, as the Clippers suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Mavericks in Game 4 of an overtime thriller on a Luka Doncic buzzer-beater. The series is now tied 2-2, and the momentum of the Clippers’ Game 3 win is gone.
It would have been impossible to predict the final outcome based on the first quarter. The Mavericks, with Kristaps Porzingis a late scratch, started the game with a small lineup, and the Clippers took advantage immediately. While Trey Burke hit a couple shots, the Clippers moved the ball well and played energetically on defense. Paul George (more on him later) made two early buckets as well, and the Clippers nurtured a small lead. However, Doc Rivers inserted the dreaded Reggie Jackson-Lou Williams-Montrezl Harrell lineup into the game, and the Mavs were able to get going offensively.
Ivica Zubac played in a hybrid bench-starters lineup to start the quarter, and the Clippers began cooking on both ends. Zu contested shots, snared defensive rebounds, and kept things going with offensive rebounds. Meanwhile Lou Williams caught fire, repeatedly torching whichever Mavericks player got in his way. Soon, the lead had reached 21. Then, Montrezl Harrell checked in for Zubac, and the game shifted on a dime. Boban Marjanovic got a couple easy buckets, the Mavs started attacking the rim, and the Clippers offense stagnated. Seth Curry and Trey Burke torched the Clippers’ defendrs, getting to their spots with ease, and the Clippers lead shrunk to eight at half.
Unfortunately, things got worse from there. The Clippers looked utterly lifeless coming out of halftime, as if they’d found out that a team puppy had died, or that they had to spend this upcoming winter living in Antarctica. They offered little resistance defensively, with Curry, Burke, and Doncic all taking turns roasting them over a fire. They might have been even worse on the other end, with absolutely no ball movement and endless clanked jumpers. Paul George in particular seemed to have lost whatever remaining confidence he had left, even passing up an open three at one point. The bench played with a little bit more energy and fire, but the defense failed to improve, with Trez, Lou, and Reggie once again the primary culprits. The score flipped, and it was the Mavs who led by eight going into the 4th.
The Clippers clearly came out with far more energy and effort to start the quarter, but the defense helmed by the bench did not improve. Lou Williams singlehandedly kept them in the game, hitting tough shot after tough shot and slithering his way to the basket. Finally, with over 8 minutes to go, Doc pulled the plug on Trez, and went small with Marcus Morris at center. As the quarter winded down, the Clippers’ defense tightened, even as Luka made increasingly difficult shots and passes to keep the Mavs ahead. With a few minutes to go, the game suddenly opened up, as everyone – Reggie Jackson, Tim Hardaway, Kawhi Leonard, Lou Williams – made shots back to back to back. The Clippers were finally able to force a stop, and had the ball with 19.7 seconds left. However, they settled for a horrible Kawhi fadeaway jumper from 20 feet, and the game went to overtime.
The overtime went much the same as the end of the 4th, as both teams traded blows. Kawhi and Lou were doing damage on one end, Burke, Hardaway, and Luka on the other. Back and forth the teams went, until Kawhi found Marcus Morris in the corner with 9 seconds to go. Splash. On the final defensive possession, Landry Shame was inserted for Lou Williams, but Reggie Jackson curiously reminaed in th game. Luka got a switch on him, and Reggie delivered the foul to give. With 3.7 seconds left, Luka again got the switch from Kawhi onto Reggie (with relative ease), stepped back, and drained a 30-footer over Reggie. Ball game. This Game 4 loss to the Mavericks immediately ranks up there in a pantheon with other horrible defeats suffered by the Clippers.
Doc Bewilders: This loss falls squarely onto the shoulders of Doc Rivers. The Clippers may have not executed well, and may have been lifeless for parts of the 2nd and most of the 3rd quarters, but Doc was thoroughly outcoached again in this one. His insistence on playing Montrezl Harrell when Boban Marjanovic is in the game cost the Clippers in Game 2, and hurt them again tonight. Ivica Zubac played only a couple minutes after coming out in the early 3rd quarter, despite the fact that he was a +11 in 22 minutes. Montrezl Harrell was a -19 in 17, and had 2 points and 1 rebound total. And somehow, that’s not even the worst bit. Doc Rivers left Reggie Jackson, a legitimately awful defensive player, in the game in the deciding possession, and sure enough, the Mavs switched onto him and scored. Reggie made some big threes in this one, but he simply should not have been out there. Additionally, the Clippers gave up switches from Reggie and Lou Williams onto Luka Doncic the entire 4th quarter and overtime, and showed very little resistance to it. A couple times could be up to the players, but the consistent usage means the coaching staff was ok with it. Abominable. A lot needs to change in Game 5, and beyond.
Paul George Struggling: The Clippers’ second biggest issue after Doc has been Paul George, who is not only missing shots, but is seemingly lacking all confidence. He made a layup in the 4th quarter with a strong drive, but then missed an easy one just a minute later. He was 3-14 from the field, 1-7 from three, and didn’t even seem to be that engaged defensively. Missing three-pointers is one thing. Everyone struggles shooting the ball sometimes. But the Clippers simply can’t win if their second-best player is this passive and lackluster. After those early points, George didn’t score again until that 4th quarter layup, an unacceptable performance considering his 45 minutes of playing time. Yes, he got some rebounds, but that’s nowhere close to enough. He needs to be confident and he needs to be aggressive. If he’s not, the Clippers could really lose this series.
Lou Williams Dazzles: The one Clippers player who showed up to play tonight, from start to finish, was Lou Williams. Lou Scored 36 points on 13-20 shooting while dishing out a team high five assists. His scoring and passing is what broke the game open early in the 2nd quarter, and what kept the Clippers afloat in the 4th. He was simply magnificent, showcasing the confidence, smoothness, and calm head that Clippers’ fans have come to love over the past three years. It’s a damn shame the Clippers lost a game where Lou played this well. And, for as good as Kawhi was down the stretch, it was Lou who should have had the shot to win the game at the end of regulation. This Game 4 loss to the Mavericks has many culprits for the Clippers, but Sweet Lou is certainly not among them.
Benching Trez: It really might have come to this. While Sanjesh Singh wrote earlier today about why the Clippers should play Reggie Jackson less (which this game also makes a case for), the much tougher decision lies regarding Montrezl Harrell, who has been a vast negative through four games. Outside of Game 3, he’s been ineffective on offense, and has been repeatedly torched on defense. He’s too small to provide rim protection, and hasn’t been any better than Ivica Zubac out on the perimeter. There’s no excuse for Zu to get less than 30 minutes per game, and there’s increasingly an argument for Trez to no get minutes at all. If he plays, it absolutely can’t be with Boban on the court, and the Clippers leaving him in against Bobi is simply baffling. I don’t know if the Clippers can bench Trez from a locker room standpoint, but Zu is just much better than him right now, and Marcus Morris and JaMychal Green should be getting minutes at center as well. Trez has been a great Clipper, and he’s a fan favorite for a reason, but there’s a very good case to be made that he should be getting 10 minutes per game or less in this series.
Well, that’s about all I have to say. Kawhi Leonard was great down the stretch (horrific game-winning shot aside), and has repeatedly shown up in big moments. JaMychal Green played well off the bench, and Marcus Morris was solid too, albeit rather cold on offense for much of the game. Really, if Paul George plays better, and Doc Rivers limits the minutes of Reggie Jackson and Montrezl Harrell, the Clippers should still win this series. Whether either of those happens for the Clippers, however, is now an open question after this disastrous loss to the Mavericks in Game 4.