On Tuesday, coach Ty Lew said the Clippers had come to a “very good recipe” for defeating the Dallas Mavericks.
Food was served on Wednesday. Tip to samplers: Keep Robitussin handy.
Game 5 of this first-round playoff series was another example of clipper reflux. He was strategically left behind, his stars were eclipsed, and he kept passing the ball to his opponents as if it were the 1990s and thought the home team was the one in the white shirt.
The Mavericks sensed the Clippers’ discomfort and made the most of it. They had some coughs of their own down the stretch, but they won 105-100, and now lead a best-of-seven series, 3-2. The basketball season in Los Angeles could be over by Friday night, exactly 35 months after the Clippers got Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and the Lakers got Anthony Davis, and the other 28 NBA franchises gathered like munchkins at the feet of L.A. had to happen.
Instead, the servitors just kept on drafting and trading and developing, and the Western Conference could be ready for two series of small-market, big-skill basketball in the next round.
Or the Clippers can get up again and stage Game 7 on Sunday at the Staples Center. It’s far easier to believe that this will be the case for the same old Clippers, a cumbersome phrase that only lives on because the Clippers give it an annual recognition.
Beyond Luka Doncic’s 27-point first half and his 42 points and 14 assists overall, which are pretty much inevitable when his neck isn’t bothering him, the Clippers gave their pain away. There were five turnovers in the third quarter and fourth quarter, and Dorian Finney-Smith of Dallas had five steals. Mistakes weren’t happening on the daring, imaginative dice. The Clippers were either donning the ball or removing it from their hands.
“Turnovers hurt us, miss shots,” Leonard said. “He did a good job of collapsing defensively.”
The Clippers’ own downfall began when they led 70-64 on a 3-pointer from Reggie Jackson. He had six giveaways in the next 10 trips downcourt. That stretch ended with Doncic’s layoff from Tim Hardaway’s lob pass—yes, Lob City was back—and Dallas led 80-75 and didn’t stop there. The Mavs scored the final 16 points of the third quarter, and when Hardaway started the fourth quarter, he led 91–75.
Remarkably the Clippers had chances, probably because Doncic was 1 for 8 in the fourth.
“I was terrible,” he said with a smile.
When the Clippers played their final hand, Dallas led 101-91 with a 2:18. Jackson and Marcus Morris Jr. hit 3-pointers and Leonard converted an “and-a”. Terrence Mann then consciously intercepted Doncic’s pass from inside and had a chance to score in the lane for a one-point lead. Instead, he passed the ball to Nicolas Batum, who could not score in traffic.
In the end, Leonard’s corner attempt to wipe out Dallas’ 3-point lead failed. “I’ve lost my balance, there’s better work to do,” he said.
Overall Leonard and George were 14 for 35 with nine turnovers. It’s almost the same way they played before in the Clippers’ worst defeat, their seventh game against Denver in the Western Conference semifinals last year.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle knows his way around a seven-match series. Unwilling to parade Leonard and George through the lane again, he introduced the NBA’s happiest loft, 7-foot-4 Boban Marjanovic, and when Marjanovic got tired, Carlisle used Dwight Powell. did, which was a large but living body. Marjanovic swung into the lane like a weather system and kept the ball out of the middle, and he also hit a four in nine points. Powell made seven rebounds and hit all three of his shots in his 21 minutes, and the Mavericks scored nine more field goal-attempts than the Clippers.
“We knew they would make some adjustments,” said Clippers center Ivica Zubac, “and they packed the paint and tried to shoot us jumpers.”
The Clippers also made adjustments by assigning point guard duties to Jackson, Mann and Rajon Rondo, but Rondo lost all six of his shots. Patrick Beverly spent all but 11 seconds on the bench, and DeMarcus Cousins, an Olympian and an All-Star who never had a problem scoring a pass, sat for all 240 minutes of the series.
The home teams are leading 0-5 in the series. “We’re going to play Game 6 like we’re on the road,” Doncic promised.
If Dallas does, the Clippers will be on the road for good. At least they proved they know the recipe for losing.
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