The LA Clippers lost 96-93 to the Dallas Mavericks at Arena on Tuesday night in an old-school playoff rockfight, tying the series at 1-1. Keep reading for a full recap.


Momentum; the Clippers strolled into Tuesday night’s Game 2 with plenty on the heels of learning the news of their superstar forward Kawhi Leonard becoming available to play following an impressive series-opening victory this past Sunday. But for all that was optimistic, the first 48 minutes that followed reminded everyone just how little each previous game means to the next as far as playoff basketball is concerned. 

As expected, the Mavericks came out early with a sense of desperation and a drastically higher level of intensity that carried them through the first half. The most visible acts were displayed around the rim, where the Game 1 and 2 scripts were flipped. Seemingly, each Clipper was met at the rim by the outstretched arms of an airborne Dallas Maverick in a true tone-setting way. The 50/50 balls also swung in Dallas’ direction, while activity on the perimeter — by Derrick Jones Jr., PJ Washington, and Kyrie Irving — disrupted the Clippers’ offensive attack. Yet, despite the big jump in effort from Dallas, the Clippers managed to defend well enough to trail only 45-41 at the break.

The second half played out similarly, though an early third-quarter spark from an awakened Kawhi Leonard and a Russell Westbrook-created jolt of energy during the opening part of the fourth quarter were the slight differences. And just for a moment, as LA held a 73-67 lead during that final frame, it seemed the Clippers were on the verge of putting Dallas in the rearview. But the eight consecutive missed shots that followed the six-point edge ultimately doomed the LA, as various Mavs had their hand in flipping the game down the stretch, including Luka Doncic’s, PJ Washington’s, and Maxi Kleber’s dagger threes.

LA mounted a small comeback to trim what had become a 90-81 Dallas lead with under 1:30 to play. However, the deficit proved too lofty to overcome as the Mavericks left the floor with a 96-93 win to take back to Dallas.


The Three-Point Line:

I don’t have to have been in the Mavericks’ coaching meeting to know that the game plan called for keeping LA off the three-point line. You ultimately have to win the math game, and the Clippers making just eight threes in today’s NBA likely will not lead to playoff wins. They’ll have to manage a way to create more paint touches and drive-and-kick opportunities than they did on Tuesday.

Rusty Klaw:

The Clippers got Kawhi back, but they didn’t get Kawhi back. Expectedly, after more than three weeks out, he was incredibly rusty. Leonard shot just 7/17 from the field (0/5 3PA) and looked mostly out of sorts outside of a stretch or two in the third quarter. Again, EXPECTED. The good news is that he appeared to be moving around fine — the lift on his jumpers wasn’t quite there, but that’s probably due to fatigue than a lingering injury. 

We’ll have to see how Leonard’s knee responds in the coming days after 35 minutes of gameplay. And from here on out, the question might transition from “Is Kawhi playing?” to “How quickly can the rust come off?” The answer could decide how much longer the Clippers will play in the postseason.

How to Win Game 3:

To begin this series, the Clippers have held Dallas under 100 points in consecutive games. While you can undoubtedly nitpick at some schematic choices late in the game, LA’s defense is performing exceptionally well. It’s the offense that’ll need to get back to the drawing board ahead of Friday’s contest.

Derrick Jones Jr.’s and PJ Washington’s defensive performances through two games have been nearly flawless. The two players possess the necessary length, athleticism, and strength (mostly Washington) to put a finesse Paul George and less-than-100-percent Kawhi Leonard in some tough spots, which leaves James Harden and Ivica Zubac to take advantage of what should be some of the Mavericks’ weaker defenders — the two pick-and-roll partners’ performances on Tuesday night paled in comparison to Game 1. I’m comfortable assuming Zubac will find his usual efficiency, but I find it noteworthy how much of Kyrie Irving’s full-court, point-of-attack defense seemed to slow the Clippers’ attack. A wrinkle or two should be considered to get LA’s offense flowing a little more quickly.

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