LOS ANGELES – Let’s pump the brakes for a minute before hysteria rule rationale. No panic button, please. OK. The Clippers didn’t exactly win over a new fan base after dropping their opening game of the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Actually, you might say the Clippers couldn’t really move the needle on the Richter scale past 6 in regards to their performance Saturday at STAPLES Center.
Let’s examine the facts: Besides the shooting of their superstar, the Dallas Mavericks had five players to score 14 points or more in this unlikely victory, something that Clippers forward Nicolas Batum said can’t happen if Los Angeles intends to move on to the next round.
“If we want to win that series we better make sure, like, we take all those guys out of the series as well,” said Batum, who scored 11 points and collected seven rebounds in 31 minutes of action. “We know what Luka is going to do, obviously, so he’s been a great player, but we got to make sure like to, the other guys doesn’t have a great series. Some of those guys had great games today. They made big-time shots when they needed to. So we got to do better next game, make sure we shut them down, that’s what we need to do.”
If Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and the rest of the Clippers were looking to quickly toss out the window the team coughing away a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs last season, their 113-103 at home loss didn’t help to erase those memories.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue is not going panic mode after just one game. Lue said his team needs to work on some things in preparing for Game 2.
“Just some things we got to clean up,” Lue said. “We’re very confident, they came in and played well, we didn’t execute as good as I would like to defensively. So we’re just going to go to the film tomorrow, just show some guys some things we can clean up and we’ll come back Tuesday ready to go.”
Problem No. 1 for the Clippers to solve is trying to limit the damage that Dallas guard Luka Doncic does on the offensive end. This should not come as a surprise. Against the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs last season, Doncic dropped numbers like 42 points (Game 1), 43 points (Game 4), and 38 points (Game 6) in a best-of-seven series that went six games with Los Angeles prevailing.
Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle knows he has a special player in Doncic. What he did to the Clippers in the postseason last season, Doncic gave it to them again in Game 1, even with all of the defensive switching that Los Angeles tried to do.
“Luka’s seen virtually every coverage known to mankind, every kind of double-team, every kind of switching scenario, switching and double-teaming 30 feet away from the basket, et cetera, et cetera,” Carlisle said after the game. “It’s just a matter of getting to the right spots when he gets double-teamed. He’s obviously very good against switches. He mixed up the step-back and the drives, and I thought there were a couple times he could have gotten to the free-throw line down the stretch, but we were unlucky and he didn’t get the whistle. He’s got to keep giving them a different dose of looks with a mixture of drives and shots and drives to passes to spaces, but he’s a very unique player for a 22-year-old.”
If the Clippers are not careful, Doncic will take over this series. If there were any thoughts about Doncic’s dominance, the Mavericks hybrid of a superstar, wiped the slate clean from all of that by pretty much having his way against the Clippers in Game 1. Doncic recorded a triple-double, scoring 31 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, To show off his versatility, Doncic also dished out 11 assists.
For Doncic, it was a great afternoon of basketball, especially when you win, he said.
“It’s great,” Doncic said. “Like I said, playoffs are fun. They’re more fun if you win, obviously, but it’s fun basketball. I think it’s fun for the fans to watch, and that’s it.”
There are three major areas where the Clippers lost the ballgame against Dallas. For one, from the outset of the contest, the Clippers struggled to put the ball in the hole. Unfortunately for Lue’s team, that trend continued throughout the game. As a team, the Clippers made only 44 percent of their shot attempts from the field. On the flip side of that coin, the Mavericks made half of their shots.
Leonard blamed the team’s shooting woes on missing some point-blank shots, including himself.
“I missed a few easy ones,” Leonard said. “I feel like we all did. We missed some shots tonight — what were we, 28, 27 percent from 3? Hopefully, some of those will fall in the next game. We shot the ball eight more times than them, I believe. So hopefully we could get the same shots next time and they fall.”
What hurt the Clippers probably more than anything else was not connecting too well from behind the arc. When it came to 3-point shooting, the Clippers made 11 of 40 attempts from 3-point land, a 27 percent clip. Neither Leonard and George had a great shooting performance. Leonard, who scored a team-high 26 points, made just 9 of 22 shots.
George wasn’t too much better, converting just 8 of the shots he attempted. George said doesn’t expect the team to have any lingering hangover from the first game going into Game 2.
“I mean, we expect to play better. We expect to be more dialed in Game 2,” George said. “We’re not looking at it as just because of who we have, we are expected to win. We got the same pressure as every team that’s in this. It all comes down to who is the last team standing and that’s just the pressure every team goes through. It’s no different than how we’re approaching this. We want to be the last team standing regardless of however many games it takes or how tough the road is. The fact of the matter is we want to be the last one standing. So we got to be better for Game 2 and I plan on this team bouncing back.”
Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles forward Kawhi Leonard (2) attempts to drive past Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) in Game 1 of a NBA first round playoff series. Doncic scored 31 points to lead the Mavericks past the Clippers with a 113-103 win at Staples Center on May 22, 2021. Photo credit: Austin Sosa/Black News Service (BNS)