Being down 2-0 to the Dallas Mavericks brought back talks of another Los Angeles Clippers postseason collapse, but after pulling off consecutive wins to tie the series, the tide has swung in the Clippers’ favor.
Paul George and head coach Tyronn Lue turned out to be correct in not being worried despite the fact that only 27 out of 427 teams have come back from a 2-0 series deficit (including best-of-five series). Their game-to-game approach has led to strong wins and silenced much of NBA Twitter and the Clipper naysayers, at least for the time being.
George and Kawhi Leonard have been a constant presence for LA throughout this series, but the emergence of the Clipper defense and Leonard’s supporting cast has helped even things in what is now a best-of-three series.
After giving up an average of 120 points through the first two games of the series (both losses), the Los Angeles’ defense limited the Mavericks to 94.5 points per game in the succeeding two (both wins) despite playing in Dallas. Luka Doncic’s neck strain and nerve injury have clearly bothered him and added to the Mavericks’ woes. Defensively, his limitations have also become another area to exploit and the Clippers naturally took advantage of this.
Nevertheless, Doncic continued to have his way offensively around Los Angeles as he has averaged 33.25 points through four games, but with him now laboring for every shot, it makes it much easier to defend Dallas. Doncic can still kick out to open shooters and score at will, but being less than 100 percent gives him a cause for pause and will put more pressure on his teammates, who are streaky scorers.
Let’s be clear, anything less than a completely healthy Doncic means that the Mavericks are looking at disaster. Everything flows through him, and if he’s hobbled then their offense grinds to a halt.
It was especially evident in Game 4, where Doncic scored a series-low 19 points on 24 shots and missed all five of his free throw attempts. Kristaps Porzingis and Boban Marjanovic were the only other double figure scorers for the Mavericks. With each passing game, it is likely that Doncic’s injury will be a concern moving forward in the same way that Chris Paul’s shoulder injury took much of the headlines in the Suns vs. Lakers series. Unfortunately, Doncic may struggle to find someone on his team who is capable of stepping into the Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton role.
Lue has had to adjust after playing from behind for much of the first few games of the series, and unlike his predecessor Doc Rivers, he has been able to devise ways to rally his team back and contain Doncic and the rest of the Mavericks. Taking advantage of mismatches has always been a recurring theme in the playoffs and Los Angeles will have to do so in order to avoid falling into another hole.
In creating mismatches, the Clippers have also had more ball movement, which in turn will help bring out more unpredictability to an iso-heavy (and naturally predictable) LA offense. This resulted in more shots for the rest of the team and wider openings for George and Leonard to exploit.
The wins, however, can’t be attributed to just George, Leonard, and Lue, as a handful of players have stepped up throughout the course of the series. Reggie Jackson (16 points) and Marcus Morris (15 points) were the key contributors to the Game 3 victory, while the inclusion of Nicolas Batum (10 points, five rebounds, two steals, and four blocks) into the starting lineup was a factor in bringing the series to 2-2.
In this series, the away team has always emerged as the victor, but that could change as the series shifts to a 1-1-1 format. Overall, home court advantage has not mattered during the course of the 2020-2021 NBA Season and health has been a much better barometer for success especially during these times.
History has shown that the Los Angeles Clippers have normally folded when their backs are against the wall, but their current postseason run could shed those preconceived notions and build the foundation for a potential title run. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will naturally take the headlines but if last year’s playoff exit was any indication, the whole will always be greater than the sum of its parts.