The Dallas Mavericks might have been debuting their cartoonish, fluorescent “Mavs” City Edition uniforms, but it was the serious-minded Clippers that showed all of the substance in a rousing, 114-99, win at American Airlines Center.
The victory, the Clippers’ sixth in a row, snapped a five-game winning streak for the Mavericks (11-6) and was one of the more impressive all-around performances of the season for a new-look team that is still learning the finer points of playing together. In three prior games that featured both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, talent won out despite some noticeable warts. On Tuesday night, the team’s potential was seemingly unlocked.
“We just want to hoop,” George told Dennis Scott postgame on NBA TV. “That’s the environment that Doc [Rivers] created. That’s the environment that they’ve created all year long, last year. Adding myself and Kawhi to this group, it’s the culture they already had and we’re just sprinkled into it.”
George scored 26 points, including 17 in the first quarter, while Leonard had a game-high 28 points and team-best eight rebounds in 28 minutes and Lou Williams added 21 points, six assists, and six rebounds off the bench. The Clippers scored 28 points or more in three quarters, connected on 11 3-pointers, and outrebounded the Mavericks 56-46, but shot just 42.3 percent from the floor.
The offense, though, was propelled by a defensive effort that forced future MVP candidate Luka Doncic into a frustrating 4-for-14 shooting night and seven turnovers.
Entering the game, the Mavericks had scored 138 or more points in their previous three games, all wins. The Clippers held them to a season-low 99 points and prevented them from shaving the fourth-quarter deficit to closer than 14 points.
George anchored things with six steals, the most by a Clipper since Wesley Johnson had six in January 2018. But it was a combination of George, Leonard, Patrick Beverley, and Moe Harkless on the wing with Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell as the backstops that truly unnerved Dallas.
“That’s what we hang our hat on,” George said of the team’s defense. “We’ve got guys that love playing defense. We’re really starting to get into our groove, really starting to get our chemistry on the defensive end. It’s scary, we’re clicking right now. We’re getting this thing rolling.”
After the Clippers upended the Celtics in overtime last week, Leonard said it was important for the team to get off to more effective starts in games. On Tuesday, thanks to a 17-point whirlwind opening quarter from George and an assault from beyond the 3-point line, the Clippers (13-5) got rolling earlier.
They buried Dallas through the first 17 minutes in what amounted to slowly shoveling dirt in the form of a Williams 3-pointer or a Leonard drop-step dunk overpowering Dorian Finney-Smith or taking advantage of a botched Mavericks defensive assignment on a baseline out-of-bounds play that resulted in a Rodney McGruder layup. The latter basket led to Rick Carlisle’s second timeout in four minutes, and prompted a Kristaps Porzingis and Doncic return from the bench.
There were a number of signs that things are beginning to come together for the Clippers. The team defense seemed better connected. Aside from a few lapses like both George and Leonard scrambling from Porzingis to close out to Tim Hardaway Jr. in the corner, leaving the former All-Star open for a wing 3-pointer, there was improved communication and tighter rotations on that end. Offensively, some of the stagnant, ball-stopping lag that was occurring during the first week of Leonard and George playing together also seemed gone. Making 3-pointers sure helps open things up, but there were sets like a secondary break in the third quarter where George pushed the ball ahead to Beverley, who played catch with Leonard in the corner, before Leonard looked at the rim and quickly rifled the ball inside to a waiting Zubac for an easy layup.
The team defense neutralized a lot of what has made Doncic so special through the first month and a half of the season. The second-year MVP candidate went just 2-for-9 from the field in the first half with Beverley, George, and Moe Harkless playing physical and trusting backside help at the rim. The result was an inefficient floor game with 4-for-14 shooting overall, seven turnovers, and more than a few moments he had to scrape himself off the floor. Of course, the free throw attempts piled up, including a career-high 11-for-11 in the first 24 minutes (14-for-16 overall on the night), but it was clear the Clippers were consciously attempting to make all of the downhill playmaking a challenge for Doncic.
The Clippers went on a 17-5 run between the end of the first quarter and middle of the second quarter. The run put them up double figures and they never looked back.
The Clippers and Mavericks had alternated wins and losses in the series since the start of the 2017-18 season, but the Clippers win Tuesday was the second in a row against Dallas in the all-time series… Harrell had 12 points and seven rebounds this game after demolishing New Orleans with 34 points… The Clippers had 14 turnovers, compared to the Mavericks 20… Dallas shot 38 percent overall, but got a 10-for-19 effort combined off the bench from JJ Barea and Seth Curry, who played his first regular season game against his father-in-law Doc Rivers. Curry married Rivers’ daughter, Callie, in September… The Clippers improved to 2-4 on the road.
THEY GOT NEXT
The Clippers’ Thanksgiving week road trip continues in Memphis on Wednesday, Nov. 27. The first trip to FedEx Forum will come on the second night of a back-to-back against one of the most energetic young teams in the league. The Grizzlies (5-11) are short on wins, but have been competitive against some of the league’s best teams, including a one-point loss to the Lakers at home on Saturday. The Grizzlies fell, 126-114, on the road to Indiana on Monday despite 28 points from Jaren Jackson Jr. and 19 points and 10 assists from rookie superstar Ja Morant. LA has won five of its past six games against Memphis, including a 2-1 record in the Bluff City.