The Clippers are down 3-2 on the road, and need to win Game 6 in order to force the all-deciding Game 7 at home in Los Angeles. To do so, they will need to conquer whatever inner demons they may possess as well as the brilliant Luka Doncic. Keep reading for a full preview of the Clippers’ Game 6 against the Mavericks.
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
When: 6:00 PM PT
How to Watch: ESPN, Bally Sports West
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Nicolas Batum – Marcus Morris
Mavericks: Luka Doncic – Tim Hardaway Jr. – Dorian Finney-Smith – Kristaps Porzingis – Boban Marjanovic
Clippers: Serge Ibaka Doubtful (Back)
Mavericks: JJ Redick Out (Heel)
The Big Picture
The Clippers are on the brink of elimination far, far earlier than expected. A desperate comeback attempt in Game 5 fell flat in the final seconds, and the Clips now trail the Mavericks 3-2 heading back to Dallas. The Clippers have varied wildly in quality not just on a game to game basis, but within individual quarters, and that’s something that just can’t happen in the postseason. While the Mavs have played well, especially Luka Doncic, many of the Clippers’ wounds have been self-inflicted. Just look at the parade of awful turnovers in the second half of Game 5, which prevented the Clippers’ offense from finding any rhythm and also got a moribund Mavs’ offense out for easy buckets in transition.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the Clippers need their superstars to be superstars. The biggest reason they won Games 3 and 4, outside of some improved defense and rotations, was that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George matched (if not exceeded) Luka Doncic. That did not happen in Game 5 – Paul George had a pretty good but not great game, and Kawhi Leonard was just flat out bad. If Kawhi is bad, the Clippers aren’t going to win games, not against teams as good as the Mavs. The Clippers probably don’t need A+ games from Kawhi and PG to win every game, but they sure help, and they simply can’t have another “F” performance from one of their stars.
This will be a test of the Clippers’ mental fortitude, leadership, and cohesion. The pressure is on them huge on the road after a crushing loss, and they have to come out and take what’s sure to be an early Mavs haymaker. If the Clippers can withstand that blow, and gain a lead, hopefully they can flip some of that pressure back onto the Mavs. They’ve proven they can beat this time – they need to believe in themselves, and have composure all the way.
The Mavs, conversely, have to be riding high. They’re going home, they’ve made crucial counter punches to each Clippers’ adjustment, and have beaten the Clips in a myriad of ways. Luka Doncic looks like one of the best players in the world, and the Mavs have to have confidence in him to bring them home. The interesting question will be if Rick Carlisle continues to go with the big lineup that started Game 5, or gets ahead of the sure countermove by the Clippers and pivots another direction. Regardless, the Mavs are going to come out with a lot of energy and a raucous crowd behind them. If they hit some threes to start, or if Luka gets going…. watch out.
Terance Mann’s Role: Perhaps the biggest X-Factor remaining to the Clippers is young Mann. Sure, his poor decision to not take a layup at the end of Game 5 may have been a game-losing one, and he also missed two free throws in the 4th quarter, but the Clippers only had that chance at a game-winner because of a defensive play that he made. His rebounding, pace, and ability to attack the basket are huge for a team that lacks all three, and it seems clear that he needs a more consistent role. He does harm spacing, but with the Clippers playing small, finding him minutes with four other shooters (George, Leonard, Morris, Batum for example) isn’t that hard. Going with a young and still fairly inexperienced player is difficult on a team with so many veterans, but Terance has proven he’s up to the challenge. As mentioned throughout the preview, Game 6 might largely come down to the Clippers’ superstars against the Mavericks’ star, but guys like Terance could well swing the tide.
Playoff Rondo: Outside of Kawhi, the biggest disappointment in Game 5 was undoubtedly Rajon Rondo. Far from “Playoff Rondo”, we saw all the worst fears of “Regular Season Rondo” – bricked shots, wild defensive gambles, and a couple brutal turnovers. For a guy who was so good for the Clippers in the regular season, he’s had an up-and-down playoffs, and the Clippers desperately need more. When he’s making smart plays with the ball in his hands, coordinating the defense, and pushing the pace, the Clippers are at their best. When he’s forcing threes and swiping at the ball instead of keeping guys in front, he’s just about unplayable. Rondo is maybe the most battle-hardened postseason vet on the Clippers’ roster (which is saying something), and he needs to show it in Game 6 against the Mavericks.
More Batum: The Clippers’ 3rd best player in this series, by far, has been Nicolas Batum. Just as he was for so much of the regular season, Batum has been the Clippers’ connective tissue on both ends. On defense, he’s a switchable defender who offers at least a modicum of rim protection and also provides critical rebounding. On offense he’s a respected shooter who can handle the ball, make the extra pass, and attack off closeouts if the moment is opportune. He blew the game-winning bunny in Game 5, but was fantastic otherwise, and 33 minutes is just not enough for him. Kawhi and George are going to be playing 40+ minutes barring foul trouble, but Batum shouldn’t be far behind them.
Well, that about does it for this preview of the Clippers’ critical Game 6 against the Mavericks. How are you all feeling? Be sure to stick around for the game, and leave your comments below!