The Clippers mounted multiple comeback attempts, but none stuck. With a 105-100 loss to the Mavericks, the Clippers fell into a 3-2 hole with the series reverting to Dallas, both in venue and advantage. (Since the road team has won all five matchups so far, that may not be a bad thing.) Luka Dončić was dominant; Kawhi Leonard was dormant; Paul George was terrific until he wasn’t; the Clippers can’t play a normal game; and more, coming up in this Game 5 recap:
The Clippers trailed by 16 with 11:42 remaining and it was over.
The Clippers trailed by 10 with 2:13 remaining and it was over again.
Down three, Kawhi Leonard attempted the game-tying shot from the corner and missed everything, and five seconds and a couple Dallas free throws later it was really over.
The Clippers almost came back from the first two near-deaths, cutting the 16-point deficit to four and the late 10-point deficit to a field goal. They’ll have to wait for Game 6 in Dallas if they want to come back from the third and final deficit, 105-100.
Here’s what you need to know:
Guess who’s back? Luka Dončić shook his left arm a few times in obvious discomfort, but if he was still hindered, I shudder to think of what more he could’ve produced.
The 22-year-old wunderkind scored 42 points on 17-for-37 shooting, 6-12 from three, his fourth 40-point performance in just 11 postseason games. He added 14 assists, and as noted by several on Twitter, he scored or assisted on 31 of the Mavericks’ 37 made field goals. He also added eight rebounds, because why the hell not.
Clipper defenders stayed home on Dallas shooters, once again determined to turn Luka into a scorer. He obliged. The only other Maverick to score in double figures was Tim Hardaway Jr., who tallied 20 but needed 19 tries to do it. In that sense, the Clippers got lucky — Hardaway missed some good looks.
Luka didn’t miss much, and he didn’t even need many good looks. He took stepback threes off the dribble. He thundered his way into the short midrange. He had outstretched hands positioned inches from his face. Splash, splash, splash.
Kawhi-et night. Kawhi Leonard, very much the best player in the two victories over the weekend, was very much not the best tonight, in what was likely his worst performance of the series.
Some of that was by Rick Carlisle’s design. The Mavericks went big, starting Boban Marjanovic next to Kristaps Porzingis and cycling through every center on the roster. Dallas took away the paint that Kawhi had recently claimed as his own, turning the Clippers’ star into a passer.
Officially, Kawhi only assisted on five plays, but his kicks-after-drives cranked the Clippers’ offense into motion, especially through a first half during which the Clippers found every open three-pointer they wanted against Dallas’ heavy-footed zone. (The Clippers also missed many of those open three-pointers in a harrowing callback to Games 1 and 2, the importance of which is not to be dismissed.)
After Paul George exited the game upon earning his fourth foul with 6:32 remaining in the third quarter, the Mavericks’ defense tightened up, no longer content to concede open jumpers. The Clippers’ offense ground to a halt, reverting to fruitless isolations and turning the ball over. The third-quarter results were grim: in just eight minutes, the Clippers turned a five-point lead into a 15-point deficit at quarter’s end. The Clippers went scoreless over the final 3:47, punctuating a 16-0 Dallas run.
Despite scoring just four of his 20 points and recording two of his five turnovers in the disastrous frame, Kawhi wasn’t the lone or primary culprit. But he couldn’t save the Clippers either. Twelve minutes later, Kawhi’s game ended ignominiously, with an airballed attempt at heroics, waiting for a foul attempt that hadn’t come. This one won’t go in his highlight reel.
The Paul George Effect. We can expect much of tomorrow’s national discourse to focus on George’s critical turnovers down the stretch. But we here know a little better, because we know that even with the crunch-time hiccups included, George was the Clippers’ best player tonight.
George was in downhill mode, scoring a team-high 23 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter. He led the Clippers with six free-throw attempts and made them all. His rim attacks helped push the Mavericks into the early bonus in multiple quarters. George’s late-game gaffes will draw the attention, but if weren’t for his fourth-quarter production, the Clippers wouldn’t have been close enough to Dallas for them to have mattered.
After the Mavericks jumped to another early first-quarter lead, it was George’s long-range proficiency against a squishy Dallas defense that helped settle the Clippers. He co-led the Clippers with six assists, leveraging his incisiveness even more productively than co-star Kawhi in a free-flowing second quarter. George’s absence in the backbreaking third quarter was conspicuous. He pulled down 10 rebounds, all on the defensive end, keying profitable fastbreaks.
OK fine, let’s quickly talk about the fastbreak . . .
Clippers gonna Clip. The Clippers submitted another entry into their unparalleled canon of playoff head-scratchers.
Down a single point and with fewer than 20 seconds remaining, Terance Mann jumped a Dwight Powell cut to intercept a Luka pass like Malcolm Butler stealing the Seahawks’ lunch. Mann passed it to Paul George who passed it back to Mann who had an open path near the baseline to the rim. Only Luka Dončić stood remotely in the way. Mann put his body between Luka’s and the basket, absorbed the contact, and against a mild contest . . . passed. Backwards. Nic Batum missed a more heavily contested layup, and the rest was airballed away by Kawhi a possession later.
Terance Mann played a good game, modest box score line be damned. This was a young player with a few months’ rotation experience making a poor decision.
But of course it happened to the Clippers.
- Reggie Jackson took his turn as the Clippers’ third star, nailing a postseason career-high six three-pointers on his way to 20 points. He was the biggest beneficiary of Dallas’ focus on protecting the paint and making Kawhi and Paul George passers.
- Marcus Morris Sr. scored 16, converting half his threes and playing stout defense all over. He drew a flagrant foul in the first quarter after elbowing Maxi Kleber on a hard box-out. He later took a hit to the underside of his arm when he accidentally landed on said Kleber, which may bear watching later.
- Dallas went large, starting Porzingis and Boban in a nearly 16-foot tall frontcourt. Their impact was greatest defensively, erasing much of the Clippers’ Game 3 and 4 paint production. Both Dwight Powell and Willie Cauley-Stein drew minutes as well, with the former earning a plus-10 rating off the bench. Powell’s rim runs unlocked the Mavericks’ offense for much of the second half, a formula Tyronn Lue will have to counter.
- Ivica Zubac was stout in the middle, pulling down 11 rebounds, four offensively, against his large(r) counterparts. His rim protection was similarly sturdy, although he recorded just one of the Clippers’ 10 — count ’em: TEN — blocks.
- Playoff Rondo was Wayoff Rondo. He handed out six assists but scored just one point, missing each of his six field goal attempts, three of which were ill-advised threes.
That does it for this recap of the Clippers Game 5 loss to the Mavericks. Stay on the lookout for more analysis of this series and an episode of TLTJTP soon.
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