The first-round series between the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers was already interesting, but now it is competitive.
As gassed up as the Clippers were all year prior to their playoff match-up, the prognosticators were not as kind to your Dallas Mavericks. The ascension of Luka Doncic gave them respectability, but the team was facing the collective favorite to win it all.
The consensus assumption was that maybe Dallas would sneak a win in and show signs of a bright future before ultimately succumbing to the star power, team defense, and matchup issues represented by Los Angeles. That’s what a No. 7 seed team is supposed to do against a No. 2 seed.
However, sometimes a team “catches fire” at just the right time, and rides the collective chemistry and enhanced play of its players to exceed expectations. In case you’ve already forgotten, it happened to a 67-win Dallas Mavericks team against a young 8th seeded Golden State in 2007.
After two games, an outright demolition of the league’s playoff record book from Dallas phenom Doncic, and some key contributions from the bench, there are at least reasons to believe that it could be the Mavericks’ turn to play spoiler.
While Dallas eventually lost Game 1 118-110, the contest never felt out of reach for the team until the final minutes, and that included surviving a bizarre ejection of its second-best player in Kristaps Porzingis.
Instead of wallowing in defeat, the feeling of losing a winnable game was used as extra fuel in Game 2.
Much of the league went to bat for Porzingis between games, intimating how ridiculous it was for an impact player to be ejected on such flimsy ground. Porzingis’ return from his ejection went as well as could be expected, except Donic’s partner in crime shot a ridiculous 75% from beyond the arc. As good as he is, no one was counting on that kind of shooting.
Porzingis’ stat line of 23 points and 7 rebounds was in line with his per 36 minutes projection (25 points and 8 rebounds) for Game 1, if he had not been politely asked to leave. He also remained free of foul trouble from Clippers pests and ultimately showed what Dallas was missing in the second half from Monday’s opener
Game 1 showed the potential for the upstart Mavericks to eventually contend against the NBA elite. Game 2 quickly showed that any narrative formed around the match-up might need to be edited.
Dallas arrived focused on turning the tables on the Clippers, mirroring how Los Angeles began Game 1 with an unchallenged run of their own in the opening frame on Wednesday night. Before L.A.’s second bucket, the Mavericks had scored 15.
The Mavericks never trailed in Game 2. In fact, Los Angeles never even tied.
While Dallas measurably improved in controlling their emotions, there was also significant improvement in keeping control of the basketball, especially from Doncic. The Mavericks produced 9 total turnovers in Wednesday’s matchup, as opposed to the Clippers’ 15 on the night.
Doncic had one turnover in the entire game, which was ten less than in his playoff debut. That meant ten extra possessions for a Doncic drive to the basket, a Porzingis pick & roll, or setting up a Seth Curry three. It was also ten possessions where the defense could be properly set.
Another big reason for the turnaround was addressing the third quarter effort where many Mavs leads have flatlined this season. The third quarter on Wednesday turned out to be Dallas’ most fruitful of the game, with 37 of its eventual 127 points coming in those 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, star guard Paul George didn’t get his first basket of the game for the Clippers until 7:58 into the third quarter. He was off all night, finishing 4 of 17 from the field and just 2 of 10 from deep.
While Tim Hardaway added 17 points in the win, the most reliable third option turned out to be most of the bench itself, with three Mavericks from the second unit scoring in double digits. Trey Burke – aka the world’s greatest bubble signing – was active early and ended the night with 16 points on 7 of 11 shooting and even contributed two steals in 18 minutes of action.
Burke ended up being an extra meaningful presence as he allowed Doncic time to breathe on the bench, especially while Doncic was in and out throughout the second half with foul trouble. Curry added 15 points and led the team in +/- with a plus 30 on the night.
Boban Marjanovic – who joined the franchise in the offseason to anchor the hybrid Center/“Glue Guy” position this year – continued to bolster his position in the running for the world’s most interesting man.
During the game, a prime example of Marjanovic’s huge presence was felt. After being credited for his soft skills in calming Porzingis after his ejection on Monday, Boban then asked to put some respect on his name by adding 13 points and 9 rebounds in under 10 minutes on Wednesday, becoming the first player in postseason history to score 10+ points and grab 7+ rebounds in 10 minutes or fewer. He’s not paid by the hour, folks.
Wednesday’s 127-114 win over Los Angeles accomplished a hard fought revelation for the Mavericks that they are in this to win it. The series is altered and now it’s a best of five.
There will be no momentum carryover felt with a location change to the beautiful Dallas skyline, but the series absolutely feels different after the first playoff win in the Doncic-Porzingis era. Dallas is playing with house money and looks relaxed while remaining hungry as they continue to follow coach Rick Carlisle’s guidance.
Look for the Clippers to feel that desperation when Game 3 tips off against the underdog they now know has the ability to beat them.
Are you surprised that the Mavericks have been able to hang with the Clippers thus far? Share your thoughts with Irvin on Twitter @Twittirv.