The common prediction heading into this first-round series was that the Clippers would beat the Mavericks in five games. Yes, Dallas had the league-leading offense, but the Clippers were more prepared than any other team to send a wave of wing defenders at Luka Doncic to frustrate him, and by extension, the rest of the of Mavericks. The regular-season games bore out that hypothesis. Dallas was inefficient on offense and lacked the requisite perimeter stoutness to defend Paul George, and especially Kawhi Leonard. They might win one game on hot shooting, but no more.
Well, Dallas has already tallied that one victory, and the Mavericks might have had two had they kept their emotions better in check in Game 1. Credit to Dallas, and to head coach Rick Carlisle, for being ready for his herculean challenge, but much of the blame falls on LA. In the playoffs, that vaunted Clippers defense has not come to play. The team has been mistake-prone, and players often look as if they are executing separate schemes simultaneously. One team has constantly been at playoff intensity, the other has not, and only the Clippers’ prodigious talent has resulted in a tied series instead of Dallas being up 2-0.
Where: AdventHealth Arena, Orlando, Florida
When: Friday, Aug. 21 at 6 p.m. PT
How to watch: TNT, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, Fox Sports Southwest Dallas, fubo TV
How to listen: ESPN 103.3 FM / 1270 AM (ESP), KEIB 1150
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac
Mavericks: Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Kristaps Porzingis
Clippers: Patrick Beverley (left calf) — DOUBTFUL
Mavericks: Courtney Lee (left calf), Dwight Powell (right achilles) — OUT, Trey Burke (left ankle), Kristaps Porzingis (left heel) — PROBABLE
The big question heading into Game 3 is one that the Clippers unfortunately have no control over: will Patrick Beverley be ready to go? The Clippers are 11-11 this season without Beverley in the lineup. Comparatively, they are 8-7 without Leonard and 15-9 without George.
Beverley is the main source of energy in the first unit. Doc Rivers also said that Beverley is the loudest player on defense (shocking, right?), which could be the source of some defensive communication breakdowns. In addition to simply being a team leader, he brings defense at the point of attack, ball movement in the half court, and spot-up shooting. That’s a rare combination of skills, and the Clippers have struggled to mix and match the rest of their rotation to fill that void.
Reggie Jackson is clearly not the answer. Doncic has been eating up Jackson on defense, blowing by him or finding the open shooters when Jackson misses rotations. Jackson also hijacks the offense a bit too much for low-percentage shots, a particularly egregious sin when he shares the floor with Leonard and George. The Clippers acquired Jackson specifically to back up Beverley, and that means spot starting when Beverley is unavailable, but this is a bad matchup. They need someone to maintain their defensive integrity, or at least add another dimension to the offense. Lou Williams never really looks comfortable in the starting unit, so my choice would be Landry Shamet.
At center, Ivica Zubac was far less productive in Game 2 than in Game 1, as the Mavericks adjusted by running high screen-and-roll actions with Maxi Kleber to force Zubac to defend in space. The Clippers could simply counter by running more pick-and-roll with Zubac on the other end and allow him to use his brute strength to clear out the paint. They could also match him up more often with Boban Marjanovic, who has overwhelmed Montrezl Harrell with his size. In fairness to the Clippers, they never faced a center-less Mavericks starting lineup until the playoffs, but their failure to adjust has been disappointing.
To this point, the Mavericks have been proactive about attacking matchups and forcing the Clippers to respond. Ideally, a team with the talent and experience advantage like LA would be dictating the terms, but Rivers and the Clippers haven’t. This is their chance to regain control of the series and show why they were the favorites coming in.