After their Game 1 loss, Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue was adamant about getting off to a better start. The Clippers came out energized early on, but Game 2 quickly turned into an offensive track meet. LA failed to adjust defensively and the Mavs stayed hot from three (18-for-34), dealing the Clippers another loss at home and a 2-0 series deficit. A monstrous performance from Kawhi Leonard of 41 points, six rebounds and four assists proved too little.
After Leonard put him in a body bag on Saturday, Maxi Kleber was out for blood, scoring 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first. Facing an early deficit, Leonard dragged the Clippers back near the end of the first. His 18 first-quarter points, a playoff quarter career-high, helped LA withstand another explosive offensive quarter from the Mavs. Despite hitting 5-of-9 three-pointers, the Mavs led by just a pair, 35-33, heading into the second. LA shot 11 free throws in the quarter while the Mavs failed to take a single trip to the line.
The pace picked up in the second as the game went from a light jog to a full-on sprint. Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum gave the Clippers an injection on offense, but a series of defensive miscommunications — highlighted by a wide open dunk from Willie Cauley-Stein, which caused much consternation in the Clippers’ huddle — helped the Mavs keep up.
Five minutes in, Kristaps Porzingis euro-stepped past Rajon Rondo for an open layup and then nailed a deep three from the top of the key. But two minutes later, the 7-footer found himself on the other side of the highlight reel as PG-13 made him touch earth with a nasty in-and-out crossover leading to an and-one.
The stars continued to trade blows as whatever modicum of defense remained hastily escaped the building. Luka Doncic (team-high 39 points) nailed a pair of deep threes. George converted a silky midrange pull-up jumper and hammered a fastbreak dunk. Leonard put Porzingis — who the Clippers abused all night in the pick-and-roll — in the spin cycle, landed a fall-away floater over Kleber, and sunk a transition three.
Both teams shot north of 70% in the second quarter as LA entered the half trailing 73-71 on the back of 30 points (10-for-14) from Leonard and 17 from George.
In the second half it turned out the concept of defense had not been entirely lost as both the Clippers and Mavericks briefly tightened things up. Porzingis, who did his best revolving door act in the first half, began to protect the rim before earning his fourth foul which relegated him to the bench four minutes in. But the Clippers’ defensive miscues continued. On multiple occasions LA defenders went under screens on Doncic. The Mavs got seemingly any mismatch they wished as they built a double-digit lead towards the end of the third.
LA continued to crumble and Dallas never cooled off. The Mavs scored at will, at one point finding themselves with a 14-point lead early in the fourth, 106-92. George did his best to halt the Mavs run, responding with a personal 5-0 run as Leonard remained on the bench, but Doncic continued to get to his spots, hitting a series of tough turnarounds and floaters. His spotty free throw shooting and some opportunistic threes from Marcus Morris Sr. kept LA afloat under four minutes to go.
Without a big in the paint, Doncic blew by the Clippers’ guards, finding little to no resistance when arriving at the rim. He scored two layups in quick succession and then found a wide open Porzingis for a dunk out of a double team. With just over a minute to go, it was Tim Hardaway Jr. — 28 points on 6-of-8 from three — who sank the dagger into LA’s heart, hitting a 27-foot three to extend the Mavs’ lead back to seven.
Leonard and George did everything they could offensively, but it simply wasn’t enough. Just four teams in NBA history have won a series after dropping the first two games at home. If the Clippers’ past playoff performances are an indication, becoming the fifth will be a tall task.
Kawhi’s 40-Piece Spoiled: Leonard was unguardable on Tuesday. He hit 14 of his 21 shots including 4-of-7 from deep, pouring in 41 points. He went to the line 10 times, hitting nine. He scored inside and out on any and all of the Mavs’ perimeter defenders, but ultimately his heroic performance will likely be forgotten in the media storm to come.
Small-Ball: After an early defensive breakdown, Serge Ibaka was animated with his teammates. Whether his temper got the best of him or Lue felt they were again better off going small, Ibaka never returned. With a player like Doncic, the small-ball lineup makes sense when it comes to switches, but down the stretch without a rim protector, LA stood no chance against the scorching Mavs.
Mann’s Spark: Terrance Mann saw increased run after a near no-show in Game 1. In 15 minutes Mann added 8 points and 5 rebounds and, much like he did all season, brought what seemed to be a tone-setting type of energy. In the second half, Mann missed a three but hustled back on defense to take a charge. It may already be too late for the Clippers to turn the series around, but if they hope to claw their way back in, they’ll need more play like Mann’s.
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