While the L.A. Clippers and Dallas Mavericks came into this game sitting at opposite ends of the NBA spectrum, it was still somewhat unclear exactly what this matchup might look like. Andrew Bogut and Dirk Nowitzki, high-impact players who round out a very good front court along with Harrison Barnes, were both game-time decisions early in the day. Per NBA.com, the Mavericks, who entered the day dead-last in points per game (90.7) and three-point percentage (31.0%), desperately need the kind of scoring and production Nowitzki is able to provide, as well as the defensive presence and rebounding ability that Bogut provides. Early on, it looked like the makings of a trap game. But once the Clippers’ firmly established order late in the 1st quarter, they could not be stopped by the Mavericks.
The Mavericks started the game with Bogut, Nowitzki, Barnes, Wesley Matthews, and Seth Curry. While not at full health, they at least appeared better-positioned to be competitive. They began with a quick and fluid 11-3 run, prompting a timeout by Clippers head coach Doc Rivers just minutes into the game. Throughout the quarter, the Mavericks got scoring contributions from every starter with the exception of Curry, and appeared ready to begin finding a collective rhythm; Bogut was perhaps the biggest factor early-on, scoring 4 points, grabbing 3 rebounds, and dishing out 3 assists in just 9 minutes of play. Nowitzki continued to hit well-defended shots, and Barnes still appeared to be their primary scoring option despite the starting-unit returns. But it all wouldn’t last for very long.
The Clippers’ starting unit had narrowed the early game gap, while their second unit took it a step further and went on a 15-5 scoring run to close out the quarter. The end of the quarter also featured back-to-back three-point shots by Austin Rivers, the 2nd and 3rd of his game-total 6 three-pointers.
The second quarter began with the Clippers second-unit, who continued an 8-0 run which began at the end of the 1st quarter. They demonstrated excellent ball movement, blistering pace, and defensive intensity. Aside from a series of easy buckets by Nowitzki, and an 8-0 scoring run, the Mavericks simply became increasingly outmatched.
Once the starters re-entered the game, Chris Paul looked to score aggressively, while bigs Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan became more adept at reading and reacting-to Mavericks play at both ends of the floor. By halftime, the Clippers led 68-45, holding the Mavericks to 44.2% shooting from the field, 25% shooting from behind the arc, and forcing 10 turnovers (including 9 steals).
The Clippers began the 3rd quarter with their full starting unit, and quickly stretched their lead out to 72-45, prompting a timeout by Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle less than two minutes into the half. The Clippers dominance would never falter, but the pace of the game certainly did. Numerous fouls disrupted offensive flow for both teams, including back-to-back fouls drawn by Paul from Bogut; Bogut, whose physicality increased seemingly out of sheer frustration, was assessed a flagrant-1 foul for the second of the two fouls. Bogut would go on to reach 5 fouls with 3:18 left in the quarter. After more fouls, and trading-off longer half court offensive sets, the Clippers led 93-70 at the end of the quarter.
Not a single Clippers starter played any minutes in the final quarter of the game, and they didn’t need to. The Clippers second-unit, arguably the best and most-complete in the league, played the entire remainder of the game led by Austin Rivers (22 points, 6-7 behind the arc) and Marreese Speights (16 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block in just 22 minutes).
While the absence of starters allowed Mavericks youngsters Dorian Finney-Smith and Justin Anderson, as well as Jonathan Gibson to display flashes of athleticism and shooting-prowess at both ends of the floor, the Clippers bench was just too much for them to handle.
By game’s end, seven Clippers players had scored in double figures and they stretched their NBA-best record to 14-2. They are now 7-0 on the road and still have the best start in team history. They continue to find ways to win against a variety of rosters, talent, and systems, primarily by playing smothering defense, battling for rebounds, and playing selflessly and efficiently at the offensive end. The Clippers aren’t just winning, they are playing the right way.
It could be a long and frustrating season for the Mavericks, but it’s still quite early in the season. Despite their NBA-worst 2-12 start, they have too much talent and too much collective basketball-IQ to continue playing this poorly. Health has been a major factor, and with Deron Williams slated to return soon and the remaining core of their roster getting upcoming opportunities to jell, fans should not lose hope. But with Nowitzki drawing ever-closer towards the end of his career and with some promising younger players who will require more minutes and experience, it may be time for them to begin closely examining their franchise’s future.
Up next: The Detroit Pistons will host the L.A. Clippers on Friday 11/25 at 4:30pm PST (7:30pm local time). Watch the game on Fox Sports Prime Ticket, or listen on AM 570.