Whoever says there is no such thing as free lunch has clearly never seen the beautiful Woj Bomb that was dropped on February 7th, 2019. For those of you who don’t immediately remember what happened, it was the day the Clippers got Zubac for free (well, it cost them Mike Muscala, but he was never going to get minutes anyways). Why do I bring this up today? Well, it’s just fun to remember how the Clippers acquired today’s MVP, Ivica Zubac, who dropped in 21 points (on perfect 10-10 shooting) and 15 rebounds. Yep, you read that right. Zubac was perfect from the floor today as the Clippers beat the Mavericks 126-111.
The game started out a bit slow to say the least. It was basically a rock fight between two high powered offensive teams who just couldn’t quite find their shooting stroke. Luka started off slow (emphasis on the started), but luckily for the Mavericks, Porzingis was finding ways to score with his versatility. As for the Clippers, they were having success inside with Paul George effortlessly slicing his way to the rim, a recurring theme we have seen in the bubble, and Zubac rolling to the basket with some nice finishes. While some of the Clippers offense was discouraging, it really should not be understated how fantastic George looks when he’s aggressively attacking the rim. His shot-making abilities force defenders to play up on him, and his quick first step and explosiveness are easy tickets straight to the hoop. Back to the point—the first quarter wasn’t great. The Clippers ended shooting 9-27, but their defense (which held Dallas to 10-24) and zero turnovers actually let them finish off the quarter up by one.
For as slow as the first quarter was, the second quarter was much more inline with what you would expect from these two teams—a fast paced scoring battle with both teams knocking down buckets from everywhere on the floor. Apparently that’s what happens when two star players decide to start attacking aggressively and shooting with confidence, and that’s exactly what Doncic and Kawhi started to do. Doncic was able to find his rhythm against a lineup without Kawhi or PG, a bit of a rarity in the bubble. Doc rolled out a full bench unit that Luka toyed with—knocking down step back 3s and scoring at the rim with ease. It also didn’t help that the Clippers seemingly changed their strategy of having no turnovers and rebounding well to the opposite of that. Luckily for them, they have a Fun Guy on the squad who decided to have just as much fun out there. Kawhi lit it up by aggressively attacking the rim and knocking down a couple of threes along the way. He ended the half with a game high of 17 points while keeping the Clippers’ 1 point lead nice and safe.
Onto the third quarter. Zubac. That’s it. That’s the third quarter. I’m (kind of) kidding, but wow he played fantastically. The Clippers started off quick, building up a larger lead that turned into the Zubac show (which is becoming one of my favorite shows to watch). The game plan on offense was simple: dribble around and do anything, feed Zu, get points. Rinse and repeat. Defensively, Zu was just as important. He disrupted Luka around the rim, easily pushed Porzingis out of favorable positioning, and gobbled up boards just like he did passes inside the paint. After building up a double digit lead, Doc swapped in another all bench lineup and things did not look nearly as good. While their offense was still solid, defensively, they made it easy for the Mavs by fouling possession after possession. I’m not kidding when I say possession after possession. To end the 4th quarter, the Clippers sent the Mavericks to the line for the last five possessions. For a team that was struggling to find any rhythm offensively, the Mavericks lucked out with the Clippers committing boneheaded fouls. Despite building up a double digit lead midway through the third, the Clippers’ foul happy 2nd unit had allowed Dallas to cut the lead to four.
The final quarter was close… until it wasn’t. The Clippers turned up the intensity on both sides of the court, but Dallas refused to give up without a fight. They showed why they were a top offensive team for a reason with Porzingis leading the charge knocking down deep threes, and other guys chipping in timely buckets as well. Unfortunately for them, the Clippers’ defense didn’t waver while Porzingis momentarily transforming into Steph did. The entire team began playing beautiful basketball with Kawhi, George, and Zubac all scoring effortlessly against the middling Mavericks’ defense. Luka struggled to create for his team with the Clippers clamping down on everyone, and soon enough, the lead was insurmountable and the bench unit was brought out in the final minutes as the Clippers beat the Mavericks 126 to 111. To put their dominance in perspective, the Clippers ended the game on a 25-10 run, cruising to their 2nd win in the bubble seeding games.
- Paul George: I mentioned him before, but wow has he looked good in the bubble. He’s not going to start off every game 3-3 from behind the arc like he did against the Pelicans, but he is still able to be incredibly impactful with his elite defense and fantastic ability to get to the rim. In a game like this one where the team is struggling with jumpers, it’s a huge plus to have someone who can get to the rim at will. On top of this, his passing ability on drives has been on point, as he has bn able to connect well with Zubac on the roll.
- Doc’s early challenges: On a pretty specific note, Doc has shown that he isn’t afraid to call challenges early on in the game. Ideally, teams reserve these for the end game in case there are questionable calls during the more crucial crunch time minutes, but it’s hard to fault Doc for using his challenge to stop potentially game changing plays early on in the game. More importantly, it’s an important tactic to try to keep players like Kawhi out of foul trouble on bad calls. It’ll be interesting to see if Doc adjusts his strategy as games become more important.
- Zubac with bigger minutes: As incredible of a player Montrezl Harrell is, there were times where fans were left scratching their heads when Doc overplayed him. The biggest victim of this was of course Zubac. With Harrell still out of the bubble (reports are that he should arrive early next week), Zubac has gotten his chance to shine. Unfortunately, that chance was tarnished a bit last game when he turned the ball over leading to the Booker game winning shot, but he has really showed up these past two games. He adds the rim protection the Clippers sorely need, and he has been improving his offensive game which leads to nights like this, where he has an efficient 21. Hopefully we continue to see Doc going to Zubac more often in games instead of just stubbornly playing Harrell for the final 14-16.
- Luka: He has been phenomenal in the bubble so far, and while he had his best shooting game from deep tonight (6-13), the Clippers defense really stifled him tonight. Coming into the game, Luka was averaging 34/13/11 in the previous seeding games. Tonight, the Clippers limited him to 29/3/6. Luka’s value doesn’t just come from his scoring, but rather, it comes from his ability to get the entire team’s offense running. Seeing him struggle was a huge testament to the dominance of the Clippers’ defense, especially at the wing and at the rim.
Stay tuned, as the Clippers’ next game isn’t much over 24 hours away against the Blazers on Saturday morning. Hopefully Patrick Beverley will be back for that one, because they will need him against the scorching hot supernova that is Damian Lillard. However, tonight, Clippers fans can bask in the fact that the Clips beat a very good Mavericks team 126-111 in entertaining fashion.