Sloppiness plus a nasty road crowd is a reliable formula for defeat. Against a Mavericks team still playing for their playoff lives, in front of a Dallas crowd still chapped from the DeAndre Jordan saga, the Clippers turned the ball over 17 times, falling 97-95 in haphazard manner.
The Clippers turned it over in every way possible. They traveled. They stepped out of bounds. They made ill-advised passes. They also had the ball expertly stripped from them, like on their penultimate possession when Harrison Barnes atoned for his own turnover in the clutch and picked Blake Griffin clean.
In a game that was nip and tuck throughout, the empty possessions turned what was a winnable game against an inferior opponent. Those and a defensive performance that too often lacked pace and precision.
The wayward defensive tone was set early, as the Mavericks glided to a 5-point first quarter lead boosted by 55% shooting, a 7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and 8 points from emerging scorer Seth Curry, who would finish with a team-high 23 with 3 threes.
Blake Griffin looked aggressively for post shots early, but struggled to capitalize against Harrison Barnes, the 3 in a 4’s body. Blake salvaged his statline with a solid fourth quarter, leading the Clippers with 21 points overall, but required 23 field goal attempts to get there. Carrying with the night’s theme, he added 4 turnovers against just 2 assists.
But the team’s defense sharpened for a late first-half surge, keying a 22-4 stretch that earned a 6-point halftime lead. That one-sided run included a JJ Redick 4-point play, a blitzing Chris Paul end-to-end layup, and a Rick Carlisle technical foul. DeAndre was the stoutest of Doc’s players, recording a first-half double-double on his way to a 14/18 night on 6-of-6 shooting.
Unfortunately, whatever momentum the Clippers built dissipated into the halftime air, because the team lazed its way to a meager 2 points over the second half’s first five minutes. The Mavericks tied the game with a 6-0 run, and the ejection of J.J. Barea after the little guard shoved Blake in the face stoked the flames of a fanbase that was already alight with passion. (And we should be impressed that the diminutive Barea could even reach Blake’s face...) Despite a strong third quarter for Austin Rivers, who scored 8 of his 13 points, the Clippers allowed the Mavs to keep pace with inconsistent play at both ends.
A ridiculously contested three-pointer by Jamal Crawford in the early fourth quarter gave hope that the Clippers might begin to pull away, but the continued struggles by the defense and by Chris Paul kept the game’s outcome in suspense. In his 400th appearance as a Clipper, Paul turned in an uncharacteristically poor game, struggling to 15 points and 6 assists and turning it over 4 times. As Clipper fans know, his national reputation as an unclutch performer is grossly unfair, which made his wild airball with 30 seconds remaining all the more shocking.
After the aforementioned consecutive Harrison Barnes and Blake Griffin turnovers, the Clippers sent Wes Matthews to the free throw line to preserve a final possession. Matthews oddly decided to make his second free throw after missing his first, when an intentional miss may have dispensed the remaining 0.9 seconds of clock. The single make gave the Clippers one last look at erasing Dallas’ two-point lead.
Even with the 7’2” Salah Mejri inserted to comically guard the much, much shorter Chris Paul’s inbound pass, JJ Redick freed himself for a darn good look that was a touch strong, a fitting end for what was a 2-for-9 shooting night for the shooting guard.
Harrison Barnes contributed 21 points and solid defense to the Mavericks’ win, although he posted up multiple Clippers down the stretch with mixed results. Dirk Nowitzki scored 14 in a complimentary role, with several of his minutes coming against fellow ‘98 draft pick Paul Pierce, who logged a surprising 9 minutes. Recent addition Nerlens Noel chipped in 12 rebounds and altered several shots with his lurking weakside defense.