In Game 3, the Clippers took a big punch and fought their way back, finishing strong and bringing the series to 2-1. Tonight, the Clippers have a chance to even the series and restore home court advantage. While Game 3 was certainly a must-win, there is no time to slow down. Read on for a full preview of the Clippers’ Game 4 against the Mavericks.
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
When: 6:30pm PT
How to Watch: TNT, Bally Sports SoCal
How to Listen: AM 570 LA Sports
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Marcus Morris – Ivica Zubac
Mavericks: Luka Dončić – Tim Hardaway Jr. – Dorian Finney-Smith – Kristaps Porziņģis – Maxi Kleber
Clippers: Serge Ibaka (Back Spasms) – Questionable
Mavericks: JJ Redick (Achilles) – Out; Luka Dončić (Cervical Strain) – Questionable; Maxi Kleber (Achilles) – Probable
The Big Picture
As Ty Lue said during his media availability on Saturday, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have been carrying the load for this Clippers team, especially in Game 3. They combined for 65 points on 24/35 shooting, both playing over 41 minutes. Before George got into foul trouble, he was leading the Clippers’ attack with some incredible shot making. Then, as the game went on, Kawhi became the focal point of the offense, including running several Kawhi-Rondo pick-and-rolls, which led to open looks.
Tonight, the Clippers will need similar production from their two stars. What was most encouraging from Game 3, however, was the reappearance of Marcus Morris, Sr.’s shooting. He finished the game with 15 points on 6/9 shooting (3/5 from three) before fouling out. He was joined by Reggie Jackson, who started and added 16 points on 6/12 shooting. If the Clippers can count on this level of efficiency from their third and fourth scorers, they have a chance to match the Mavericks’ hot supporting cast (who cooled off a little in Game 3, thankfully).
A less-obvious positive development (if you’re only looking at the box score) was the improved rotation. With Serge Ibaka at home focusing on his back injury, Ty Lue continued to go small in Game 3 and gave Terance Mann almost 20 minutes off the bench. Although Mann was only 1/3 from the field, he grabbed six boards and added two assists. But, as the Clippers and Clips Nation has come to expect, his greatest contribution was his energy and pace. Moreover, Lue leaned more heavily on Rondo, who played 26 minutes and led the team in assists with eight. This meant Patrick Beverley played a much smaller role in Game 3, but it seemed to be for the best, as he is still getting in rhythm after missing significant time in the second half of the season.
Defensively, the Clippers still had trouble containing Luka, who finished the game with 44 points on 15/28 shooting. He started the game by demolishing the Clippers’ defense and hunting Zubac whenever he had the opprotunity. But there were some positive developments. Specifically, as Lue said on Saturday, the Clippers forced Luka to play downhill and carry the Mavericks offense on his own instead of letting the Mavs’ role players take advantage of open looks. As we know all-too-well, Tim Hardaway, Jr., most notably, and others in spots have been torching the Clippers all series. If the Clippers can continue what they did in Game 3, they have a chance to even this series.
There are a few more holes to plug, however. First, the Mavericks secured 13 offensive rebounds, including a few in the fourth quarter, which gave them second-chance opportunities as the Clippers were trying to maintain a vulnerable lead. This was often a product of going small late in games, but guys like Morris and Reggie also failed to box out at times. In the end, the Mavericks finished with 17 second-chance points, shooting 7/16 on those attempts. Giving this Mavericks offense second chance opportunities is not sustainable: In Game 3, the Mavs took 10 more field goal attempts than the Clippers, but made six fewer (shooting 44% to the Clippers’ nearly 58%). If the Clippers want to even this series, they cannot rely on this repeating itself.
Second, the Clippers let themselves get into a 19 point hole in the first quarter before cutting the lead down to three by the end of the first quarter. Again, this is not sustainable: While it was nice to see the Clippers stick to their gameplan and weather the Mavericks’ storm, we should expect that Rick Carlisle will make adjustments of his own. Moreover, while the Clippers should get some credit for slowing down the Mavericks’ role players, it is very possible that the Hardaway, Finney-Smith, and others shoot well-enough – not even excellent – and create enough offense to beat the Clippers in Game 4. That is, the Mavericks do not necessarily need their roll players to shoot with historic efficiency; if they had simply shot average, they might have maintained their early lead in Game 3.
Putting Zubac in the right spots: In the third quarter, Zubac showed that he can be a dominant force. Specifically, he had three offensive rebounds in short succession, which helped the Clippers keep their narrow lead late in the third quarter. But, as discussed above, he was a defensive liability when forced to switch onto Luka. In Game 4, it would be nice to see Zubac featured when Luka is off the court because he’s otherwise an effective player on both ends.
Playing downhill: This series, Kawhi and PG are shooting 85% and 88% respectively at the rim. If the Clippers want to head back to LA with an even series, they need to keep attacking the rim, getting fouled, and finding the reemerging shooters when the defense collapses.
That will do it for our preview of this critical Game 4 between the Clippers and Mavericks. For more analysis of the series, check out our podcast!