DALLAS — Gemini season is in full force and the Dallas Mavericks know it.
When the Mavericks fought back from what looked like a doomed season in February to finish 5th in the crowded Western Conference, their reward was a rematch with Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
There has been no love lost between the franchises since before and after their hotly contested series from the Orlando bubble last August, with Los Angeles seemingly tanking in the final week of the regular season to ensure the sequel took place. The Mavericks took note and delivered a sharp rebuttal, in the form of a 113-103 road victory to claim an early 1-0 series lead on Saturday.
Before the Mavericks return to Dallas with anticipated big crowds for Games 3 & 4 over the Memorial Day weekend, they will square off in Los Angeles once again with the home team desperate to avoid an enormous 0-2 deficit.
The increase in allowed attendance resurrects the importance of home court for Dallas, who will have more than 15,000 in attendance for Friday’s Game 3. For their crucial second game, the Clippers will maintain a 33% capacity limit, roughly 7,000 active fans with the rest as the cardboard cutout variety.
The playoffs have continued the ascension of Luka Dončić. The walking triple-double added his third such outing in just seven career postseason games, and any talk of intimidation from the Clippers has found no bearing with the 22-year-old.
For most of the contest, Dončić played his game at will, regardless of the face in front of him. 6’1’’ franchise annoyance Pat Beverly struggled to guard the 6’8’’ Dončić, and 7’0’’ Center Ivica Zubac was a foot behind on seemingly every Dončić drive.
When the Clippers finally got the ball out of the hands of the Dallas star, his teammates showed up to take advantage. For Game 2, the Mavericks will look to keep that momentum going.
Kristaps Porziņģis may not have had the stellar outing in the box score that we saw from him in last year’s Clippers series, but his presence certainly helped with floor spacing as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith took advantage for open looks.
Finney-Smith (18 pts) and Hardaway Jr. (21 pts) went a combined 9-14 from long range, with Finney-Smith missing only a single attempt on his way to finishing his most impressive playoff outing yet. Jalen Brunson – who missed last year’s Clippers-Mavs series due to injury – deserved Sixth Man of the Year consideration for the season but had to settle for national attention for his heroics in Game 1 with 7 of his 15 points coming in the fourth quarter.
Let’s not forget that the Clippers wanted Dallas and went through questionable roster decisions to ensure that they ended up with the 4th seed. Even though Los Angeles won the series last summer, it came in a hard-fought six games. If the Mavs receive the same output from their role players on Wednesday, they will have the Clippers on the ropes and they won’t let them forget about how we ended up here
With the series and the energy shifting to the American Airlines Center for a capacity crowd ready to erupt, the importance of maintaining the killer instinct for Game 2 that Dončić and company showed in the opener will be paramount. Expect a lot more of Kawhi Leonard guarding Luka as the Clippers try to throw everything at the All-NBA guard.
Desperation breeds aggressiveness and the Mavs will in turn look to keep the Clippers’ backs to the wall. Much like last summer, expect to see these teams push each other’s buttons to get a reaction and attempt to throw each other off their games mentally.
If Dallas succeeds on Tuesday, they will be halfway to sending the Clippers home permanently for Summer vacation a lot sooner than they expected.
Do you think the Mavericks will be able to leave L.A. with a 2-0 lead in the series? Share your predictions with Irvin on Twitter @Twittirv.
Jalen Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr. both finished in the top five in 6th Man of the Year voting, Montrezl Harrel was sixth, how did both benches change?