The Los Angeles Clippers went on the road looking like they had just been hit by a Mike Tyson uppercut. After falling down 0-2 in their NBA first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, the Clippers were on the ropes, clinging to dear postseason life.
Go down 0-3, and this series would be a wrap, and the so-called Clippers curse would be felt all through the summer and well into next season. But after their 127-121 Game 2 defeat, Clippers guard Paul George said he and his teammates weren’t stressed or overly concerned about being down two games.
“I mean, there is none. It’s a competition,” George said. “We got to rise to the occasion. The fact of the matter is if we don’t, we’re done for. But it’s no level of concern. We just got to play our game. We got to play through this. We got to incorporate our defense. Luka’s going to get his touches. We just got to do a better job defensively of just quieting everybody else.”
That didn’t seem to work in Game 3 with Dallas hotshot guard Luka Doncic dropping 44 points against the Clippers. It’s a good thing the Clippers played as a team and not as a one-man show that night. Going solo won’t help get a player into the NBA Finals. Teams do. Playing defense is even better.
While Doncic was going off in Game 3, the Clippers pretty much locked down all the other Dallas players. The Mavericks had only three other players to score in double figures, nothing higher than 14 points. Then in the pivotal fourth quarter, the Clippers held Doncic and the Mavericks to just 22 points in the period.
That turned out to be the difference in the Clippers’ 118-108 Game 3 victory.
“We just watched film and broke it down, seeing what we could do better, our defense,” forward Marcus Morris Sr. said. “Our offense has been pretty good. We scored 121 points the second game and I’m not really too much worried about that. We’re still scoring the ball. We need to focus on defense. We watched film three times as a team, and the players together and we just had to fix some things.”
Part of the fixing was having George and Kawhi Leonard do what they do. Leonard finished the game with 36 points, while George added 29 with everything, including their season, hanging in the balance.
“Those guys kill it,” Morris said of Leonard and George. “No matter what’s being said in the media and what’s being said in the outside world, them guys come in and work their ass off every single game. They don’t bitch and moan about anything. They come out and do their job and do what best they can do and that’s all they can do. No one is going to make every shot. We’re with them 110 percent no matter if they play good, play bad, it’s a team thing. So they are with us and we are with them, and we are just going to keep going forward and block all the outside noise.”
Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue decided he didn’t want to hear any of that kind of negative chirping after Game 2. Down two games in the series, Lue displayed unyielding faith in his ballclub to come through this latest adversity.
“I’m not concerned,” Lue said. “They got to win four games, and you come in on the opposing team’s floor and you play. There’s no pressure, you can make shots because you just try to come in and steal a game or steal two games. But now they got to go home and try to keep up the same shooting. It’s easy to come out on the road and do that when there’s no pressure on you, so we’ll see in Game 3.”
The Clippers went out and backed up their Lue’s belief that they could do something very few people thought they had the fortitude to do, and that is to bounce back from that 0-2 hole to tie the series with back-to-back road victories in Dallas. In your face, Luka!
Following their Great Escape in Game 3, the Clippers followed up with a much-needed convincing 106-81 win in Game 4. So, what is it to make of the Clippers flopping in the series first two games and playing lights out basketball in the last two contests?
For Lue, the takeaways from how his team responded with their season on the line, was a matter of riding things out.
“Coming to a hostile environment, keeping our poise, following the game plan, cleaning up mistakes, and making a couple adjustments,” Lue said after the Clippers game 4 victory. “Like I say, after two disappointing losses on our home floor, really had to focus coming in, taking it one game at a time to win these two games. So I was very proud of the way our guys focused and locked in and was able to execute, especially on the defensive end the last six quarters.”
Speaking of Luka, the last time Doncic played at STAPLES Center, he was kissing rainbows all over the floor making the Mavericks’ offense look unguardable. The keys to slowing down Doncic and winning their first playoff game on their home floor is for the Clippers to do the little things they did on the road, Leonard said.
“Like I’ve been saying, we’ve got to come out with a defensive mentality,” Leonard said. “Keep trusting each other on both ends of the floor. Play with pace, urgency on the defensive end. Limiting him to one shot. You know, keeping our turnovers low.”
Feature Image Caption: Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) shoots over the outstretched defense of Dallas Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis in NBA playoff action. Photo credit: Michael Lark Photography