With their backs against the wall, the Los Angeles Clippers leaned on their superstar tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to take a 118-108 win in Game 3 of their first round series against the Dallas Mavericks.
Leonard finished with 36 points and eight rebounds while George had 29 points, 22 of which came in the first half, together with seven rebounds. The Clippers collectively shot a blistering 58% from the field and made 17 of their 18 free throws to avoid a 3-0 deficit in this best-of-seven despite falling behind early on.
The win was an important one for the Clippers who, despite just being in the second year of this Leonard-George tandem, have faced several legitimate questions about their viability as a contender. The Clippers squandered a 3-1 lead in the second round of last year’s playoffs against the Denver Nuggets and losing two home games against Dallas in this postseason only further fueled the doubts.
This win was a showcase of the ceiling that this incarnation of the Clippers is capable of reaching, but only serves as a temporary respite until they can prove that they are capable of a deep postseason run.
The Mavericks came in ready to grab the series by the horns and were energized by their home crowd as they began the game with an 11-0 run. Luka Doncic orchestrated their opening salvo, scoring or assisting on the team’s first 16 points which allowed the Mavericks to lead by as much as 19 points in the quarter.
Leonard and George quickly rallied the Clippers back, trimming the Dallas lead to just three points by the end of the period. From that point on, it turned into a back-and-forth affair until the fourth quarter when Marcus Morris emerged from his slump to put the game away.
Morris hit his first three of the night to put the Clippers up by six points with seven minutes to play and the Mavericks would not come any closer for the rest of the evening. He hit two more threes over the next few minutes before receiving a technical foul then fouling out a couple of possessions later. Morris left with 15 points, but more importantly, helped the Clippers’ lead grow to 11 with less than three minutes left in the contest.
Doncic recorded 44 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists for Dallas, but made just seven of his 13 free throws. Four of his misses from the line came down the stretch in the fourth quarter which made it easier for the Clippers to build their lead. Doncic may have finished with yet another impressive line, but Leonard, George, and Nicolas Batum shadowed him for most of the contest and made it difficult for him to get into his usual spots.
Maxi Kleber and sixth man Jalen Brunson scored 14 points apiece on efficient shooting for the Mavericks, but Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. both struggled from the field after big performances in their Game 2 win. The Mavericks will need these two, who arrived together in a trade with the New York Knicks a few seasons ago, to produce if they are to advance.
In particular, the one-time All-Star Porzingis, will need to rise to the occasion. Despite standing at 7’3, he has yet to grab more than four rebounds in a game in this series after averaging almost nine in the regular season.
Meanwhile, the Clippers’ point guard tandem of Reggie Jackson and Rajon Rondo also played crucial roles for Los Angeles, with the former scoring 16 points and the latter coming up with six points and eight assists off the bench. The production of these two guards is essential for the team’s success as they take pressure off Leonard and George on offense.
The team’s third point guard, Patrick Beverley, saw a reduced role in Game 3. Known for his skills as a defender, Beverley was continuously hunted down and scored on by the bigger Doncic in Game 2, prompting Los Angeles’ head coach Ty Lue to replace him in the rotation with the lankier Terance Mann.
Mann did not do much in terms of the box score, but his hustle energized the Clippers while he also got into two separate skirmishes with Dallas’ reserve big man Willie Cauley-Stein. He was also a +18 while on the court in Game 3 and figures to be a key part of their rotation moving forward.
As much as this match-up has been about the continued ascension of the 22-year-old Doncic to superstardom, it is also a referendum for the Clippers who will need to start showing postseason results or else suffer through another offseason filled with jokes, criticism, and speculation.
These two teams will take a day off before playing in the pivotal fourth game in Dallas. The Clippers could seize momentum with another win on the Mavericks’ home floor and return to the Staples Center with the series tied at 2-2.
The Mavericks will try to move within a win of the second round and a step closer to advancing for the first time since their title winning season in 2011.
Either way, the results of Game 4 will be vital for the short-term future of both franchises.