The Clippers, hoping to find another step towards stability after the earth-shaking trade that sent Blake Griffin to Detroit, took on the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night. DeAndre Jordan too the last spot in the pre-game starting lineup announcements (the spot occupied by Griffin for the last nine seasons); he was joined by Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari, Tobias Harris, and Milos Teodosic.
The Clippers’ size advantage was noticeable early, with a Gallinari bucket and two Harris field goals forcing an early Mavericks timeout three minutes into the game, with the Clippers up 11-4.
The lead had grown to nine with 5:35 left in the quarter, with much of the scoring coming from set plays and designed motion. It’s possible that Doc Rivers felt the need for the new unit to have a little more direction than we’ve typically seen from Clippers teams. The Clippers started to skid when the Mavericks began scoring, and Dallas took a three-point lead before Tobias Harris cut off the run with a nice drive for a layup. The Clippers’ second unit brought a new energy, taking back the lead 29-28 at the buzzer with a Lou Williams three-pointer on an out-of-bounds play.
The Clippers continued to do most of their damage in the paint (though Sam Dekker, notably, hit one of his two three-pointers in this period). Montrezl Harrell continued his strong interior play, and two Harrell buckets forced a Rick Carlisle timeout with nine minutes to play in the period and the Clippers on top by seven.
It’s difficult to overemphasize how impressive the Clippers’ ball movement was during this first 15-minute stretch. Gallinari looked very impressive offensively, as did Tobias Harris, but Devin Harris kept the Mavericks afloat with 13 first-half points of his own.
The Clippers’ defensive struggles continued after halftime, with Wesley Matthews immediately tying the game on the quarter’s first possession. A series of Maverick threes in the first half of the third quarter led the Clippers to a small deficit, seemingly lost on defense. Their overall play suffered and the offense became sloppy, but some timely threes from Gallinari and Harris kept things from getting out of hand. Tobias especially had an impact on the period, both scoring and on the glass, and the Clippers were able to tie the game at 72 with 3:29 left in the quarter.
Somehow, at this point in the game, the Clippers had only attempted two free throw attempts despite dominating the paint battle. They also had 24 assists, an impressive figure. Lou Williams, however, was very quiet, depriving the Clippers’ of the third scorer that they needed to put the game away. He had just 9 points (but an impressive 7 assists) through three quarters. Heading into the final frame, the Clippers were down 79-82.
The first five minutes of the quarter were filled with the Mavericks making tough shots (a bunch of threes—they hit 17 on the night), with the Clippers’ offense producing sloppy turnovers. Ultimately, the home team found themselves down 9 points with 5:30 to play.
After that, though, the Clippers got serious. Gallinari was able to get to the foul line, and the team quickly trimmed the deficit to four. The Clippers were working through the problem of late-game scoring without Blake Griffin right before our eyes, with mixed results. A few possessions turned into inefficient isolation looks for Gallinari and Williams, which is something that the team could certainly improve on going forward.
Ultimately, Gallinari did much of the team’s late game scoring, including hitting a crucial three to cut the margin to 1, 101-100. After a wild, scrambling sequence which saw possession change hands repeatedly in quick succession, and Avery Bradley successfully disrupt two Dallas fastbreak opportunities, Gallo was able to get back to the free throw line, giving the Clippers a one-point lead with exactly 24 seconds to play.
The Mavericks failed to score on their after-timeout play, but slippery hands on the defensive glass led to a jump ball between DeAndre Jordan and Mavericks Center Salah Mejri with just 4.5 seconds left. Jordan punched the ball down the court, where a streaking Avery Bradley recovered it and dropped in an uncontested layup with just 0.7 seconds to play.
Now down 3 with under a second left, Carlisle used his final timeout in an attempt to orchestrate a game-saving catch-and-shoot three that would force overtime. Doc Rivers had a coaching trick of his own, though: he inserted 7’3” center Boban Marjanovic for his first action in a Clippers uniform, and what a glorious 0.3 seconds it was. Boban guarded the inbounder, forcing a high lobbed crosscourt pass that ultimately caused an out of bounds violation on the opposite sideline. Upon regaining possession, the Clippers were safely able to waste the final 0.4 seconds and secure a much-needed 101-104 home victory.