DALLAS — After a hard-fought win in Game 1 against the Clippers, the Mavericks would have been quite enthused with leaving Los Angeles with a road split before heading home.
Dallasites are glad they didn’t settle, however. The Mavs took down L.A. 127-121 in a shootout in Game 2 to make a getaway for American Airlines Center ahead of two-weekend contests and a legitimate chance at a clean sweep over a reeling Clippers team.
The last time the Dallas Mavericks were up 2-0 in a playoff series, they swept Kobe Bryant and the back-to-back world champion Los Angeles Lakers, ending Phil Jackson’s coaching career on their way to the franchise’s first NBA championship in 2011.
Ten years after that run, the Mavs find themselves in a similar position against the other Los Angeles team.
Los Angeles was clearly motivated to remove the Game 1 narrative of being outclassed by a team they tanked to play, but motivation and execution are hard to combine when dealing with an otherworldly 22-year-old unconcerned with the Clippers’ bullying tactics.
Electric Mavericks superstar Luka Dončić played nearly 40 minutes and finished with yet another near triple-double, carving up L.A for 39 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds in Game 2.
Dončić now has 256 points, 76 rebounds, and 70 assists in his first eight career postseason games. Luka comes home for his first playoff game in Dallas on Friday night with a 35-points per game average, adding in 9.0 assists and 8.5 rebounds to what has become a historic start to his playoff career.
It is quite clear that the Clippers can’t intimidate Dončić, who is torching their bigs to the rim, while shooting it in their face when they ease up. The All-NBA point guard has been gladly taking the mid-range shots when the perimeter defenders clampdown, and confidently sets up teammates for open looks when all comers converge on him.
So far, the Mavs have been ready for those dishes. Dončić’s dismantling of the L.A defense has opened up the floor for his teammates, who are delivering at a staggering 50 percent clip from long range.
Tim Hardaway Jr. has played himself into a bag this summer, continuing his lights-out shooting with a 28-point effort in Game 2, including 6-of-8 from deep. Maxi Kleber has gone from injury casualty to starter with the unenviable task of defending Kawhi Leonard. His 13 points and 2-of-2 on 3-pointers were critical to the Game 2 victory. After a subpar Game 1, an efficient 20-point game from Kristaps Porziņģis was the icing on the cake for Dallas.
But it all starts with the floor spacing created by the rising Slovenian legend Dončić who is playing at a level that few reach during the most important basketball of the season. Dallas made 18 3-pointers in their victory on Tuesday night, their second-most in a non-overtime postseason game ever and just behind the 20 they made against the Lakers in their Game 4 sweep on May 8, 2011.
Just like the Lakers when tasked with facing Dirk Nowitzki in that series, the Clippers have had no answers for Dončić. With Dirk in the stands watching, the Clippers looked mentally defeated at the conclusion of Game 2.
The bully bait from Los Angeles hasn’t been taken and Dallas – mostly from Dončić – has responded with a cocky attitude right back. Rick Carlisle has coached circles around Ty Lue, with L.A.’s hope of winning the series now resting entirely on the Mavs role players missing open shots or Dončić going cold.
For the Clippers, it’s an absolute worst-case scenario playing out where they are being forced to deal with the pressures of avoiding an embarrassing playoffs exit with their superstar’s free agency looming. For the Mavericks, they now return to Dallas with their young cornerstone playing impeccable basketball and the squad playing with house money.
Do you think Luka will be able to lead the Mavericks to a commanding 3-0 lead in Game 3? Share your predictions with Irvin on Twitter @Twittirv.