The LA Clippers split a two-game series with their Western Conference foes, the Dallas Mavericks, this week. Both games were competitive to a point, as the Mavericks eventually put themselves out of reach in the final quarter of the second game, while the first came down to the final couple of minutes before Paul George’s 3-point effort ended any hopes of a Dallas comeback.
Coming up against the Mavericks is always a good test for LA, or any other team in the NBA. Rick Carlisle has his players well-coached, and they have been one of the best offensive teams in the league since drafting Luka Doncic. Defensively, they do leave a lot to be desired, though that has improved somewhat this year with the offseason addition of Josh Richardson, coupled with Kristaps Porzingis’ return from injury. But what exactly did we learn about the Clippers in these contests?
Clippers improve defensively
It might seem a bit of a stretch stating LA looked better on defense than in most games they’ve played this year following a 16-point loss. But for the majority of both contests, the Clippers switched effectively, communicated well, and rarely gave Dallas any easy buckets, conceding an average of 102 points per game. Doncic did score 42 points last night, but the Clippers will not be the first team (or the last) to give up a barrage of points against the Slovenian international. The Mavericks shot 44 percent from the 3-point line in their win, with 50 percent of their 16 first-half attempts from beyond the arc falling. By comparison, LA shot a measly 28 percent on threes, converting just 9-of-32. It was one of those nights when it felt like every shot from Dallas was destined to go into the basket.
Despite the 105 points given up, and Doncic’s scoring barrage, it never felt as if Dallas was having its way with the Clippers defense. In Game 1, Ivica Zubac was brought into the starting lineup to replace the injured Serge Ibaka, and the underrated center was excellent all-around. His defense on Doncic was impressive, considering the excellent ability the Mavericks point guard holds in getting to the basket at will. Zubac switched onto him well in pick-and-roll situations and became a major disruption in the paint with only 48 percent of field-goals scored with him as the main defender, per NBA tracking data. That number even dropped to 35 percent during last night’s loss.
Even the likes of Lou Williams and Reggie Jackson (more on him later), often picked on for lacking defensive abilities, showed up on that end in Monday’s game. Jackson only got scored on for a single basket, despite eight field-goal attempts coming against him. Williams, meanwhile, had two big steals at in the fourth quarter at a time when the score was still finely balanced.
The final scoreline from last night’s game was harsh as the Clippers effort on defense was certainly not of a team who deserved to allow over 100 points. In fact, it was their defensive work in the third quarter which led to the Clippers staying within touching distance, with the Mavericks failing to register a basket for over four minutes at one stage, but ultimately poor execution on the offensive end rendered those stops futile. You can only keep a player like Doncic, and an offense as good as Dallas, down for so long. If your offensive sets don’t garner the points needed in that time, then the Mavericks will eventually start putting the ball in the basket again and pull away, which is what happened last night.
Paul George’s perseverance
Paul George struggled in Monday’s contest, going 5-of-18 from the field for a 28 percent conversion rate. It was an eyesore at times as almost everything he threw up came back down in a disappointing fashion. However, his tough spell was actually a positive for the Clippers. In his first year with the team, it seemed as if a couple of missed shots would seep the confidence out of George, leading to him passing up good shots, taking bad ones, and turning the ball over in a sloppy manner. Bad moments would distort him, so much so that it would affect him for the rest of the game.
During his self-proclaimed ‘revenge tour’ for this season, George has learned to toughen up in moments of adversity. Monday was a prime example. Instead of allowing his poor performance heading into the second contest control the narrative for the rest of his game, he kept pushing to find some rhythm. He would constantly drive to the basket in hopes of a basket or foul, and though he came up short more often than not, it was this determination which eventually led to his dagger 3-pointer in the last minute which put the Clippers up ten, effectively ending the game.
George turned things around last night in an almost 360-like fashion, as he became the Clippers best offensive player. He went 10-of-20 from the field, with 5-of-8 falling from outside the arc, and was relied on to pull the team out of the several holes they found themselves in. His successive 3-pointers at the end of the third quarter pulled the Clippers within six heading into the final period of action. George was also a very good defender in the face of Doncic, who despite his 40-piece, converted just a third of his buckets when covered by George. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t capitalize on his admirable effort, but if there’s anyone who didn’t deserve to find themselves on the losing side last night, it was George.
Reggie Jackson’s big impact in game 1 gives a glimpse into his ideal role
Raise your hands if you woke up Tuesday morning in a good mood because you thought the Clippers might just have a playoff-worthy point guard on their roster (not named Patrick Beverley of course)….*raises hand slowly*. Unfortunately, Reggie Jackson can be a frustrating player due to his inconsistency, which has been the story of his Clippers career thus far. Each time you think he’s ready to contribute in a meaningful way, his next outing brings the hopefuls back down to earth. It’s best not to let isolated performances fool you into buying into Jackson just yet, but it’s hard to find any critique for his performance in the first part of this series.
On Monday, Jackson was arguably the Clippers best player. He scored 12 points, which isn’t earth-shattering, but his plus-minus was a whopping plus-22. Defensively, he allowed just one made field goal from eight attempts. He was constantly moving the ball on offense and making the right passes. With 5:58 left in the second quarter, the Clippers had let an eight-point lead slip to just one, right before Jackson checked back into the game. Along with Marcus Morris Sr., Jackson contributed to ensure the Clippers stretched that lead to five by the end of the half, with both players combining for a couple of 3-pointers. Jackson also grabbed a steal and went coast-to-coast in quick time to provide a momentum booster. It’s that level of effort, on both sides of the court, that Jackson offered during the contest.
Last night was a different story. Jackson scored just five points, posted a minus-13 in his minutes, and missed all three attempts from beyond the arc. In fairness to the Clippers guard, it wasn’t a clean game at all by anyone on offense, with George the clear exception. Yet, it does show the potential that Jackson has when he is feeling confident, and teammates are showing for the ball more and actively trying to make themselves available for passes.
There was a moment midway through the second quarter last night, when Jackson found himself in space for a 3-point shot. For some reason he decided to pass up the chance, instead passing sideways to a covered Morris. The play would eventually end with Jackson exploiting space in the Mavericks zone defense, but unable to spot an open Morris in the corner for a 3-point effort. Instead, with the shot clock running down, Jackson fired up a shot under the rim which didn’t even come close.
It was a frustrating sequence, one which summed up the Clippers attack, or lack thereof, on the night. A lot of standing around, good decisions mixed in with bad decisions, and a wasted possession. It’s unfair to pin that sequence on Jackson, and even harsher to point the finger at him for their overall struggles on that end, but it’s easy to ponder ‘what if’ scenarios when thinking of what this team could look like if Jackson was able to provide more consistency. The type of performance we witnessed on Monday night only adds to these musings.
Overall, the Clippers will feel pretty good about their matches with Dallas. Going 1-1 isn’t the end of the world, and following the awful showing against the Pelicans that preceded these contests, there isn’t too much to complain about. On another night, when the Mavericks aren’t seemingly hitting every shot, and the Clippers offense has a better flow, it could have been a sweep for the Clips. That wasn’t the case though, and with the Hornets coming up on Saturday night, Ty Lue and his coaching staff should have time to properly analyze what went wrong, and right, during this two-game series. More ball movement and overall activity on the offensive end should be a focal point of their evaluation.
Martin is a lifelong NBA fan who has previously written for other SB Nation sites such as Pounding the Rock and Golden State of Mind. You can follow him on Twitter at @_mc1905_ to read more of his work, or just to drop in and have a conversation about the Clippers!