The #5 Dallas Mavericks defeated the #4 Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles Wednesday evening, 105-100, putting the Clippers one loss away from elimination. Mavericks third-straight upset has put Clippers into a tough position ahead of next match in the series.
Despite telling sideline reporter Dennis Scott that he “played terrible” in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic poured in 42 points, 14 assists, and eight rebounds, giving him team-highs in every major category.
Doncic scored or assisted on 31 of his team’s 37 made field goals and now has four career 40-point playoff games, tying greats such as Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan and Karl Malone in just 11 appearances in the postseason.
Kawhi Leonard and Reggie Jackson scored 20 points while Paul George led LA with 23, though the Clippers’ top scorers were only able to shoot a combined 42% from the field.
The 20 points were Leonard’s lowest scoring output of the series and he seemed affected by a lack of confidence, allowing George to control the rock for many of the closing possessions.
This result marked just the second time in NBA Playoff history that the road team has won the five opening games of a series, with the first occurring in a 1995 Western Conference Finals matchup between the eventual champions, the Houston Rockets, and the San Antonio Spurs.
A Tactical Battle
The Mavericks made adjustments to their usual rotation from the opening tip, introducing seven-foot-four Boban Marjanovic to their starting lineup and deploying a 2-3 zone on defense.
These changes gave the Mavericks extra length inside and closed off the lanes that George and Leonard had found success in during games prior, and forced them to find other means of scoring.
To their credit, the Clippers did just that— LA managed to swing the ball around the perimeter before finding an opening man inside the painted area, and when the nearby interior defender would step up to stop the penetration, Clipper wings would come free on backdoor cuts.
Rick Carlisle also placed more responsibility on Doncic’s shoulders, leaving him on the court for the entirety of the first and third quarters whereas he usually spelled the young star around the six-minute mark in each of these periods.
The Mavericks continued to go tall and physical off the bench as Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber and Willie Cauley-Stein all saw minutes in Wednesday’s playoff action. Any time a Clipper managed to get past the primary defender, the Mavericks looked to foul them rather than taking a chance on a block.
In theory, forcing the Clippers to win at the line and by stretching the Mavs’ zone with three-point shooting would play right into the home team’s hands, given that the Clippers led the Association in both foul shot and long-range proficiency; yet that is not what happened. LA missed their season averages in both departments and were outshot by Dallas, giving the advantage firmly to the underdogs.
Mavericks Third-Straight Upset | Luka’s Hot Starts
Despite dealing with a sprained neck that had caused irritation in his shoulder, Luka Doncic continued his trend on the road by starting the game piping hot.
This played into Rick Carlisle’s adjusted minutes’ schedule, allowing Luka to ride his momentum through all of the first 12 minutes and finish the opening stanza with 19 points on 5-5 three-point shooting.
Doncic ultimately finished with 42 points but scored 40 of these in the first three quarters, finding the bottom of the cup regardless of which of the Clipper defenders found themselves matched up with him.
Dallas’ Supporting Cast Steps Up
Normally, the story of the Mavericks’ defeats has revolved around underperforming role players and a one-man Slovenian show: in Game Five, however, Tim Hardaway Jr., Kristaps Porzingis and Dorian Finney-Smith all rose the occasion down the stretch and managed to hold onto the win while Doncic only provided two fourth-quarter points.
The Clippers did well to cut a 14-point third-quarter deficit to just one point with 39.5 seconds left but could not pull off the upset as Hardaway Jr. and Josh Richardson iced the game at the line.
The Clippers, meanwhile, only found 11 points on their bench Wednesday night, by far the lowest total of the series. Reggie Jackson’s insertion into the starting lineup after Game Two has weakened LA’s second unit in point production and also made Rajon Rondo less effective as a facilitator, due to the lack of scoring ability around him.
All to Play For
Trailing 3-2, the Clippers are now on the verge of being pushed out of the playoffs in the opening round. LA had fired their previous coach, Doc Rivers, for a poor showing in the playoffs last season, and had been one of the preseason favorites to win the NBA Finals this time around.
If the Clips bow out without advancing to the second round, this roster could be in for a serious shake-up in the offseason. In past playoff series tied 2-2, the Game Five winner has gone on to advance at a far greater rate than the loser: advantage Mavericks.
The potential series-clinching bout will be taking place in Dallas, and although a home team is yet to win in this particular duel, the Mavericks finished the regular season with an identical record on the road and at home (21-15), whereas the Clippers won 13.9% fewer games away from Staples Center than they did on their home court.
This series is a far reach from the NBA Finals, but the tension and bad blood between the two squads has been lingering since the bubble last year. Luka is now one victory away from fully exacting his revenge on LA after they bounced him in six games the first time around.
For the Clippers, Friday’s face-off is a must-win. Both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s status as a premier tandem in the league is at risk, and the narratives of George in particular being unable to win in the postseason will grow stronger and stronger. Doc Rivers has already gotten his new club, the Philadelphia 76ers, into the second round, and will be vindicated of his part in last year’s playoff exit.
Game Six is set to tip at 9:00 p.m. ET on Friday, June 4.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.