The Los Angeles Clippers preferred not to face their crosstown rivals to open up the 2020-21 playoffs. Now they may not even get the opportunity to play against the Los Angeles Lakers at all.
The thought of facing a rested LeBron James and Anthony Davis did not sit well with the franchise, and they ultimately chose not to win games to close out the regular season. They lost three of their last five games, including the final two to the lifeless Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder.
By positioning themselves into the fourth seed in the West, they earned a date with Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. After eliminating the Mavs in the playoffs last season, the Clippers felt comfortable heading into this first-round series. After losing the first two games on their home floor, the panic button is now within reach.
There have been 31 instances where the home team has lost the first two games of a seven-game series. Only four of them were able to come back and win the series.
Both games were high-scoring contests, as neither team was able to get defensive stops down the stretch. Kawhi Leonard has been sensational on offense and Paul George has good but not great. While the two-headed monster has carried the offensive load for the Clippers, it is their defense that has been notably absent in this series.
Doncic has been phenomenal in every aspect of the game. He had a 31-point triple-double in the first game, then followed that up with a 39-point effort in Game 2 where he also pulled down seven rebounds and dished out seven assists. He also has two steals and three blocks through these first two games. It has been a historical start to his postseason career.
Luka Dončić now has 256 points, 76 rebounds and 70 assists in his first eight career postseason games.
— Mavs PR (@MavsPR) May 26, 2021
The scoring load has been well balanced for Dallas, with Tim Hardaway Jr and Kristaps Porzingis also putting up solid scoring numbers. The timely buckets and clutch three-point shooting have been crucial to their success so far, but unless Los Angeles addresses their defensive woes, it will only continue as the series shifts to Dallas.
Heading into Game 3 tonight, the Mavericks are shooting 50 percent from three-point range. In comparison, the Clippers are hitting just 32.9 percent from deep but they are making up for it at the free-throw line. Los Angeles has been one of the top free throw shooting teams in the league this season, and it shows as they have hit 82 percent of their attempts. Meanwhile, Dallas has really struggled in that area, shooting just 66 percent as a team from the charity stripe.
The Clippers have just three players that are averaging double figures in scoring this series, with Leonard, George and Nicolas Batum. By comparison, the Mavericks have six players doing so, with Doncic, Hardaway Jr, Porzingis, Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber. This is what makes Doncic so great as an offensive weapon.
While Doncic is obviously the head of the snake for the Mavericks’ offense, many have questioned why Ty Lue has not assigned either Leonard or George to cover him for the entirety of the game. Lue stated that the offensive load was so heavy for Leonard that he didn’t want to add that to his plate. Now he may not have a choice.
Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and George has been known to be one of the best lockdown perimeter defenders in the league for the majority of his career. For some reason, the Clippers are keen on continuing to switch simple high ball screens. That leaves guys like Ivica Zubac and Marcus Morris on an island with Doncic, which is less than ideal.
For all of the talk about their defensive lineups with Leonard, George, Patrick Beverley and Serge Ibaka, the Clippers have looked lost at times on that end of the floor. Ibaka has been a shell of himself and even Beverley is too small to stop Doncic in the paint. They are capable of recovering to shooters outside, but it must be Leonard and George that accept the challenge of stopping Doncic.
With Leonard and George both on the floor during the regular season, the Clippers allowed just 104.9 points per 100 possessions. In Game 1, their defensive rating was 132.3 in 33 minutes. They were on the floor, but neither was the primary defender when Doncic had the ball. In fact, the Mavericks generated 130.8 points per 100 possessions in Luka’s 41 total minutes.
Los Angeles openly spoke about how they needed to clean up their defense after the Game 1 loss, but that turned out to be lip service. It will take much more than that to stop one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. Aside from incorporating more double-team looks, the Clippers are running out of options.
Lue has tried several things to try to slow Dallas down. The switches, drops, hedging and blitzes have not worked in either game. These are all smart defensive players, too. Their communication has been good, and the help defenders are getting to the right spots, but the deadly pick-and-roll partnership that Doncic has with his big men has been too powerful to contain.
The precision of Luka breaking down the Clippers defense, possession-by-possession was clinical.
1st & 2nd play: Clips don’t switch
3rd: Clippers switch
4th & 5th: Clippers do a soft double
Game over. pic.twitter.com/3HgsDG4HtC
— Esfandiar | Darth Es (@JustEsBaraheni) May 26, 2021
The aggressive approach that Los Angeles utilizes works on most teams, but then again most teams don’t have a generational talent like Doncic leading the way. If they can get the ball out of his hands long enough to force another player into having to create their own shot, it will help tremendously as the Mavericks do not have a lot of guys that can create for themselves.
One thing the Clippers have always lacked since the departure of Chris Paul is a true veteran leader. Neither Leonard nor George have ever been that type of player, and it is a core fundamental of most championship-winning teams. If either of them wanted to take on the assignment, all they have to do is say the word. For now, it appears as though neither is ready and willing to accept the challenge.
The Clippers have now lost five consecutive playoff games dating back to last season. Now they hit the road for two games at American Airlines Center where they will be greeted by a nearly full capacity arena of Mavericks fans. Their backs are against the wall, and although it is not technically a must-win game, the Clippers have to win Game 3 to avoid another epic postseason collapse.
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