Jalen Rose and Adrian Wojnarowski opined on the NBA Countdown that Game 3 between LA and Dallas was “the most important game in Clippers’ history.” A bit of an exaggeration perhaps, but Game 3 was indeed a must-win outing for the Clippers. Fortunately, the squad met the occasion with the requisite sense of urgency, overcoming a 19-point opening quarter deficit and beating the Mavericks in Dallas 118-108. The Clippers now trail in the series 1-2.
The Clippers began the game with Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac and Reggie Jackson. It was not a pretty start. The team was sluggish on defense and not connecting on offense. Two and a half minutes in they were trailing 8-0 care of Luka Dončić, professional switch-hunter. Dončić opened the frame with two threes and a deuce. After a quick time out by Ty Lue, Tim Hardaway Jr. nailed a three to extend the lead to 11. Paul George was first to connect for the Clippers with a field goal, but it was followed by another Dončić three. Mavericks 14, Clippers 2.
It would get worse before it got better. The Clippers defense was slow on rotations and did not appear to be communicating well. The Mavericks three-point shooting was sizzling. Four and a half minutes in and Dallas was up 20-6 with five three-pointers under their belt.
Then, enter the bench mob. Nicolas Batum, Rajon Rondo and Terance Mann made their second unit appearances and the impact was immediate. The pace in transition picked up, and the defense got tighter. With the increase in defensive intensity came offensive opportunities. Shots started hitting, confidence started oozing. Within minutes the lead was cut to five.
By quarters’ end, after trailing by 19, the Clippers trailed by only a bucket, 34-31.
The second quarter started with Rondo, Beverley, Zubac, Leonard and George for LA.
Luka continued to shoot over Zu, and everyone else, with ease. The only area in which he really struggled in this game was free throws. Wonder Boy went only 7 for 13 from the line on the night.
Paul George was absolutely fantastic. Aggressive, and using his size to get to the rim. He carried the team offensively throughout the half.
The Clippers did a solid job handling the Mavericks’ role players throughout the evening, and took particular joy in targeting Kristaps Porzingis. The slashing and backdoor cutting Clippers made KP such a liability on the floor that Rick Carlisle had to bench him for extended minutes throughout the game. Porzingis had just 6 points in the half; 9 points in the game.
At the break the Clippers led 63-61.
STATS AT THE HALF
Paul George was sensational for the Clippers with 22 points on 10 for 13 shooting (2 of 3 from three), 2 assists and 2 rebounds.
Kawahi Leonard was next best, contributing 18 points on 8 for 9 shooting (2 of 3 from long), 6 rebounds and 1 steal. Reggie Jackson also logged double figures with 11 points, 1 assist and 1 rebound.
The Mavericks were led by Luka Dončić with 25 points, 4 assists and 7 rebounds.
The Clippers shot an admirable 60.5 percent from the field, but just under their regular season average from beyond the arc. The team connected on just 38.9 percent of their shots from long (7 of 18) over the opening two frames.
The Mavericks, on the other hand, continued their unreal shooting in this series, making 50 percent of their shots from the field, and 54.5 percent from three (5 of 7).
The Clippers fared better than the Mavericks on most other metrics. They outperformed Dallas with regard to fast break points (12 to 4), points in the paint (28 to 14), and rebounds (21 to 14).
The Clippers started the second half with George, Jackson, Leonard, Morris Sr. and Batum (replacing Zubac).
The Mavs came out hot from three, but the Clippers were able to maintain their composure, and consequently their lead, throughout the frame. Defensive intensity was present, and the players found ways to push the pace, penetrate and get to the line. Three-point shooting performance also picked up.
For Dallas, Luka still got his looks, but defensively the Clippers were more successful avoiding the switch, which made Luka uncomfortable and forced him to turn the ball over. Dončić logged five turnovers by nights’ end.
With approximately 4 minutes left in the third, Paul George picked up foul number four and made a quick exit to the sideline. By that time Mann and Rondo had returned to the floor, and honestly, the Clippers did not lose a step. At the end of three, the Clippers were holding on to a slight lead, 89-86.
The Clippers entered the final frame with Morris Sr., Rondo, Mann, Jackson and George. Both Dončić and Kawhi started the quarter on the bench but were back on the hardwood within minutes to close out the game. Although George had cooled off significantly by this point, Leonard was red hot. Halfway through the quarter Kawhi had accumulated 30 points on 12-16 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
Marcus Morris Sr., who had been struggling, hit a trio of three pointers from the left corner before fouling out to help the Clippers seal their victory. So happy to have Mook back in the saddle.
Clippers win, 118-108.
FINAL GAME STATS
Kawhi Leonard: 36 points; 3 assists; 8 rebounds; 1 steal; 2 blocked shots
Paul George: 29 points; 4 assists; 7 rebounds; 1 steal
Reggie Jackson: 16 points; 4 assists; 3 rebounds
Marcus Morris: 15 points; 1 assist; 1 rebound; 1 steal
Luka Dončić: 44 points; 9 assists; 9 rebounds; 1 steal; 5 turnovers
Maxi Kleber and Jalen Brunson had 14 points each. Tim Hardaway Jr. contributed 12.
The Clippers ended the game shooting 57.9 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from long. The Mavericks shot 44.2 percent from the field, and a remarkable 51.3 percent from long, hitting a total of 20 three-pointers by the time the final buzzer rang.
Points in the paint favored LA (46-24), as did rebounding (39 to 33). The Clippers also performed better from the charity stripe, converting 17 of 18 attempts as compared to the Mavericks’ 12 of 18. Dallas was better with regard to second chance points, however, outscoring LA 17 to 6.
Effective Change in the Starting Lineup
Fans were confused by Ty Lue’s substitution of Reggie Jackson for Patrick Beverley in the starting line-up. The swap actually made sense however, as Jackson started 43 games for the Clippers during the regular season, with much success, particularly on offense. In the first two games of the series the Mavericks’ starters outscored the Clippers 54-36. Jackson was inserted for his offense, and actually did help keep the game from slipping away in the first quarter with some quality shots.
Game Adjustments and Team First Mentality
Coach Lue made meaningful adjustments for this match up, utilizing the guys who were going to be successful and ensure victory regardless of the role they may have played during the regular season. And kudos to the players for accepting and implementing those adjustments without egos getting in the way. Team first mentality wins every time.
Weathering the Dallas Storm
Dallas’ shooting in this series has simply been unreal. That did not change in Game three. As reported, the Mavericks hit 20 threes on 50+ percent shooting. The Clippers are only one of nine teams to ever beat a team having such a spectacular performance.
The Clippers are also the first team to beat the Mavericks this season and post season in a game where they led after the first quarter. Before this Game 3 loss, the Mavericks were a perfect 29-0 in such situations.
Bench Mob For The Win
Terance Mann and Rajon Rondo were difference makers in this game. Without their energy in the first quarter when the Clippers were down, the Mavericks would have emerged victorious. No question.
Mann was +18 in 19 and a half minutes. He logged 4 points, 2 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
Rondo was a team-high +22 in 26 minutes and contributed 6 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 1 steal. More than that, he was a calming presence and leader on the floor, something the Clippers desperately needed.
Protecting the Ball
LA was markedly better at protecting the ball during this outing. Only nine turnovers, quality passing and no fumbling the basketball in the paint.
Size Matters? Maybe.
It is unclear to what extent the large and loud crowd in Dallas contributed to the Clippers’ shaky start. American Airlines Center was packed with over 17,000 Mavericks fans for Game 3, the largest and most aggressive crowd the Clippers have seen in well over a year. It could not have been easy, and will be just as hard, if not harder, during Game 4.
Playoffs Round 1, Game 4: Sunday, May 30, 6:30 p.m.