After having a chance to claim a second victory and claim a decisive upper hand in the series, the Clippers came up short Wednesday night as they fell to 1-1 against the Dallas Mavericks. Here are five takeaways from Clippers – Mavericks game 2:

The Clippers need Patrick Beverley

It’s not exactly rocket science–LAC won’t be at their best unless they have their third-best player on the court. Yet, somehow every time Pat is forced out of the lineup, the extent to which the team misses him seems so drastic that it’s hard to talk about anything else.

Everyone knows what Pat brings as a player, from his quality spot-up shooting to his all-NBA defense. Beyond his numbers, he’s a leader both by command and example, his incessantly barked orders and encouragement only paused when he himself is pulling down a much-needed defensive rebound against a bigger opponent or diving after a caroming loose ball.

It’s sometimes less apparent how important Beverley is to the Clippers’ offense when he’s on the floor. When he comes off, it’s impossible to ignore.

Part of it is lack of alternatives for Clippers coach Doc Rivers. He spent the season cycling through possible emergency point guards, none of whom passed the test: Derrick Walton Jr., Jerome Robinson, Landry Shamet, Lou Williams, and Terance Mann all proved wrong for the role. The team’s second-unit offense was fine (or historically great, but you get the point) with Williams at the helm, but inserting him into the starting lineup creates as many problems as it would solve.

What the team needed to find was to find a dependable veteran who could provide reliable spot minutes off of the bench in the playoffs, and be an emergency starter if Patrick Beverley had to miss important games. They thought they had found the perfect player for that role in Reggie Jackson. I don’t have much to say about Jackson’s performances lately except this: they clearly didn’t.

Boban is Montrezl’s Kryptonite

Montrezl Harrell is a lot of things, most of them good. One of them is the likely 2019-20 NBA Sixth Man of the Year–no small feat for a guy picked in the second round five years ago and thrown in to the Chris Paul trade. He’s one of the most skilled interior scorers in the NBA, and a viable, efficient threat around the rim in a league with higher three-point attempt and offensive efficiency than ever, where less potent inside players have been left behind.

Another thing that Montrezl is: bothered by length. We’ve seen it here and there over the last few years, some of his more forgettable regular-season nights coming against teams like the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, or super-sized 2020 Lakers’ lineup with Anthony Davis playing power forward next to either JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard.

There may be no worse match-up for Trez than Mavericks backup Boban Marjanovic. Always undersized at center, Harrell creates his opportunities with a lethal combination of physicality and skill, using elite speed and strength to find gaps against taller, longer players and a mixture of soft touches and ferocious dunks to finish. He just doesn’t do it from outside of 3 feet away from the basket.

This season, Trez is 351-499 (70.3%) within 3 feet of the rim, but just 109-248 (44%) from 3-10 feet. Boban Marjanovic is the right combination of huge (7’4″) and strong (Trez can’t push him as easily as skinnier giants like Porzingis) that it’s simply difficult for Harrell to get shots off when Boban is standing under the basket. On the other end, he can’t bother Boban’s shots in the paint, and Harrell’s already-poor rebounding is particularly exposed in this match-up.

During one stretch of game 2, Boban and Trez matched up against each other from 2:41 remaining in the first until 8:36 in the second. During those six minutes, Harrell had 2 points and 0 rebounds. Marjanovic had 8 points and 5 rebounds in that stretch, as Dallas extended their lead from 6 to 14. When the Clippers are at their best, Montrezl Harrell is a big part of their success. But Doc Rivers needs to find different situations to use him, and a different counter for Boban–when Rick Carlisle is using Marjanovic in a straight-up second-unit match-up with Harrell, it ends badly for LA.

The worst Clipper in this series has been Doc Rivers

It could be argued that this is the root cause of some of the other takeaways from Clippers – Mavericks game 2. As poorly as Reggie Jackson has played, both off the bench in game 1 and starting in game 2, and as much as Montrezl has struggled in his match-up against Boban, and as poorly as the Clippers (notably Paul George) shot the ball in game 3, one Clipper lies at the center of the team’s disappointing start to the playoffs: Doc Rivers.

I have covered the Clippers for the entirety of Rivers’ tenure. You would find, if you were to survey my commentary on the team over his seven years with the team, that I’m a generally pro-Doc guy. I’ve certainly been critical of him when I felt it was warranted (like his dreadful bench lineups that featured both Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce), but I’ve never said the team should replace him as head coach, and I’m not saying that here.

Rivers has been thoroughly bamboozled by Rick Carlisle in this series. The Mavericks focus on putting Ivica Zubac in compromising situations defensively, knowing that Doc is too quick to pull him and overplay the more athletic Harrell, and then punish Montrezl, exploiting his size with Marjanovic and poor defensive positioning with pick-and-pop threats Porzingis and Kleber.

Carlisle starts the solid defender, Kleber, over the more explosive scorer in Seth Curry to handle the Clippers’ George-Leonard duo. Then, he pulls Doncic early, re-inserting him with Curry against LA’s smaller and dismal defensive second unit to blitz LA when their starters go to the bench. He goes briefly to flawed utility players, like Marjanovic and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, when he needs their unique skills to keep his lineup balanced. Rarely do you feel like one of those guys is left in the game for too long.

Through two games, Rivers has had no answer to Carlisle’s lineup adjustments. The Clippers’ rotation feels like their standard, pre-scripted package that we’ve seen over and over this season, not a series of decisions made to optimize their depth for this particular match-up. Rivers has amazing depth at his disposal. If he wants to space the floor against Marjanovic, JaMychal Green can stretch Boban out defensively, and Patrick Patterson is available for spot PF minutes if Marcus Morris needs to rest during one of those stretches.

When the Mavericks bring an offensive blitz on the second unit against sub-par defenders like Reggie Jackson, Lou Williams, and Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder–a guy who started for the Miami Heat last year as a gritty defensive wing–can be used to keep the lineup balanced to defend Doncic while LA’s star wings are off the floor. When the Clippers can’t secure defensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, Ivica Zubac is allowed to come back into the game. Rivers doesn’t appear to be aware of the rule that says your starting center can play in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers have a clear talent advantage over the Mavericks. They might win this series without Rivers optimizing their lineup. Hell, they might keep winning, if Beverley gets healthy and their main players play big enough minutes that compromising lineups are unlikely to see the floor. But it’s worrying that the match-up where Dallas has had the biggest advantage over LA has been at head coach.

Dallas’ explosive shooting is yet to come

I know I’ve said this a thousand times this week, but the Mavericks have the most efficient offense in the history of the NBA. While the Clippers haven’t been as good defensively as they could be, part of the reason they often look out of sorts against Luka Doncic and the Mavs is because everyone looks out of sorts against a historically potent offense that forces you to make bad choices over and over again.

I said that holding Dallas to 110 points in game 1 should be considered a success on the defensive end, even if there were improvements that could be made. Tonight, the Mavs exploded for 127, and the Clippers’ cold shooters couldn’t keep up. A lot of folks anticipated that there would be a game this series where Dallas had an explosive shooting night–an offense as good as theirs, with the second most three-point attempts per game in the league, is bound to have one.

Game 2 wasn’t it. While Dallas did shoot quite well from deep, finishing at 44.8%, they were far below-average in volume–13-29. In their 75 regular-season games, they only attempted 30 or fewer threes 3 times. They made 13 or fewer in one-third of their games–25 times. They scored 127 or more 15 times (and went 13-2 in those games), and made 20 or more threes in 8 of those.

Dallas is going to make it rain, and the Clippers have yet to face that storm.

Playoff P

I don’t feel the need to go too deep here, or be too harsh in my criticism of Paul George, who has been great for the Clippers this year. But it’s impossible to ignore when listing takeaways from Clippers – Mavericks game 2: LA is not going to win many playoff games against good teams when their second-best player takes himself out of the game with cheap fouls and is invisible offensively. When your team depends on you as much as LAC depends on George, you simply have to be smarter about avoiding likely foul situations when you’re already in foul trouble. He not only had 3 in the first half, but nearly picked up his 4th in the third quarter trying to chase Seth Curry over a ball screen. I appreciate a Clipper fighting through a screen for what feels like the first time all season, but you have to play conservatively when you’re a star in foul trouble.

For PG, 14 points on 4-17 shooting just isn’t good enough. On a night where he’s 2-10 from deep, only getting 4 free throw attempts isn’t good enough. On a night where he isn’t scoring efficiently, only having 2 assists isn’t good enough. Credit to George for impacting the game with his 10 rebounds, but he isn’t getting 30 million dollars for his rebounding. PG has to create offense for himself and others, even if it means foregoing some looks from deep on a cold night and getting into the lane to draw fouls or find open teammates.

That’s it. This loss is behind us, and hopefully LAC will adjust and improve based on the takeaways from Clippers – Mavericks game 2. Friday night’s game 3 is already visible on the horizon. Losing a game–even two–to a quality opponent like Dallas isn’t the end of the world. The Clippers have to learn, improve, and fight through adversity if they want to win the title, and these early struggles are part of that. But if they drop game 3, and fall down 2-1 to the 7th seed, then it will be time for the alarm bells to sound.

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Lucas Hann

Lucas Hann

Lucas has covered the Clippers since 2011, and has been credentialed by the team since 2014. He co-founded 213Hoops with Robert Flom in January 2020.  He is a graduate of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA and St. John's University in Queens, NY.  He earned his MA in Communication and Rhetorical Studies from Syracuse University.

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