The Clippers fell behind to the Mavs 2-1 in a miserable, embarrassing, uncomposed performance that was a disaster in a number of ways.


The game started off similarly to the first two games, with neither team able to get much of a flow on offense. Ivica Zubac remained the main man on offense, scoring six early points for the Clippers, but in a change Daniel Gafford matched him with six points of his own, all on dunks. Russ came in for Kawhi around the 6 minute mark with the Clippers up 14-12, and the bench began to trickle in. The game got very ugly with lots of fouls and questionable calls, and both team’s offenses stalled. A Harden buzzer-beating three got the Clippers up 23-18 after one, a nice finish to a hideous quarter.

The Clippers started the 2nd quarter, oddly, with Harden-Russ-Norm-Amir-Mason. Even more oddly, the lineup actually grew the Clippers’ lead a bit, even with Mason dragging them down, largely because of Harden, who hit three stepback threes in a manner of minutes. The Clippers led 32-25 when Russ fouled Josh Green hard in transition, picking up a flagrant one. PG came back in for Russ but almost immediately picked up his 3rd foul. Kawhi and Zu finally returned, but the momentum had shifted. Nobody on the Clippers outside of Harden could do anything on offense, while the Mavs’ offense, led by Luka, began to hum. The Mavs got dunk after dunk, with only occasional Clippers responses. Kawhi looked slow and injured, and was taken out at the 3 minute mark with the Mavs up 47-39. The wheels continued to come off, and the Mavs led 54-41 at halftime, but the lead felt like 30 instead of 13. Harden had 14 and 3, Zu had 10, and no other Clipper was even remotely a positive impact guy in totality outside of maybe Norm (8 points on shots but with some wide open misses).

The Clippers’ offense remained totally stuck in the mud to start the 3rd, with the Mavs’ lead not growing significantly mostly because Kyrie and Luka couldn’t hit their shots. PG picked up his 4th foul at the 8:57 mark but stayed in. It didn’t matter. While PG began to find his stride slightly as the quarter went along with the ball in his hands, this meant Harden didn’t touch the ball much, which is ultimately a bad thing for this Clippers’ offense. The Clippers finally got some slight momentum towards the end of the period, getting the lead to as little as seven, but Kyrie went off to close against a small Clippers unit, and the Mavs pushed their lead back to 11, 78-67. Still the Clippers won the quarter by 2 and could theoretically have pulled off a win….

Except the 4th quarter happened. The Clippers started out with a Harden-Norm-Amir-PG-Zu lineup, all well enough and good. Except PG smoked a layup and then almost immediately committed his 5th foul. Kawhi checked in for Amir, but the turnovers continued. The Mavs’ lead grew as Ty Lue cycled guys in and out to find a good unit and couldn’t. The offense, in particular, was a chore, with turnovers and clanked jumpers the order of the day. The Mavs outworked the Clippers, looking more athletic, energetic, and focused. Multiple Clippers jawed at PJ Washington, their nerves unraveling, and frustration grew. The whole saga culminated in Washington and Russ shoving each other and earning dual ejections at the 6:10 mark with the Mavs up 91-75. The Clippers kept fighting for another few minutes but failed to make headway, and the plug was mercifully pulled with three minutes to go.


Kawhi, Unhealthy: This game was maybe not the worst possible outcome for Kawhi Leonard but it was certainly in the bottom 10%. Kawhi played 25 minutes, took just seven shots, and never made much of an impact on either end, mostly just acting as a decoy on offense and guarding shooters on defense. He clearly wants to be out there for his teammates and is frustrated his knee isn’t feeling better, but it’s also clear he’s not close to 100% and actually looked much worse in this game than he did in Game 2. The human body is tricky, and it’s possible Kawhi feels better suddenly in the next few days, but it seems unlikely. If he’s at this level, or even at Game 2 level, the Clippers aren’t going to win the series, and would honestly probably be better off not playing Kawhi to add more clarity to their lineups and rotations.

PG, Invisible: For as bad as Kawhi was, he at least had the excuse of bad health. There is no such excuse for Paul George, who was equally as unimpactful as Kawhi (outside of maybe a brief 3-4 minute stretch in the 3rd quarter). George was in foul trouble the entire game, messing up the Clippers’ rotations as James Harden had to play extra minutes to carry the bench. When he did play, he was indecisive on offense, settling for jumpers or getting flummoxed at the rim. His defense was fine, but he elected to mostly guard the Mavs’ role players, as he was in foul trouble. Seven points on 3-11 shooting in 30 minutes is an unacceptable line for a star player who wants a max or near-max contract, even with a handful of rebounds and assists. If PG doesn’t come out with a very good Game 4, this series will start to go down as an all-time black mark for a player of his caliber.

Russ, Out of Control: Look, I love Russ’s energy. I appreciate his heart and passion. I understand his frustration with heckling fans. But as a 16-year veteran, he has to be smarter than he was tonight. He has to stay under control and not have reckless flagrants and techs. He needs to attack the rim on offense instead of settling for jumpers that defenses are giving him. He has to be a steady hand running the offense when Harden needs a breather. His on-ball defense was great tonight, but everything else was a disaster, with 1 point on 0-7 shooting and 2 turnovers to 1 assist being a simply horrific offensive performance. Russ is not a star anymore, but the Clippers need him to be better than he was tonight.

Harden and Zu, Showing Up: James Harden and Ivica Zubac have been BY FAR the Clippers’ best two players in this series, a truly stunning development. While Harden had 5 turnovers to 5 assists and was a bit passive in the 2nd half, he also played 44 minutes, getting just a single minute of rest before garbage time due to Kawhi’s health and PG’s foul trouble. His threes in the 2nd quarter got the Clippers their largest lead, and he was the only guy able to get downhill consistently. And big Zu had 19 and 8 on 8-11 shooting and seems to be propping the Clippers’ defense up nearly single-handedly. Far from being played off the court, he has been vital to the Clippers on both ends with his paint scoring, rim protection, and rebounding. If only the rest of the team could give Harden and Zu some support, they might have a lead in this series.

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