While the sheer number of road teams picking up wins to open the playoffs this season is notable around the league, not just in the Clippers-Mavs’ series, there’s no consolation as the Clippers now have to fight to save their season.
So, how will they turn things around following Tuesday’s 127-121 Game 2 loss? The answer is really simple for Kawhi Leonard.
“We have to get stops,” he told reporters postgame. “You’re not going to make every shot. It’s the NBA. Those coaches and good players over there are going to make adjustments to get the ball out of the best players’ hands or just make it harder for them. But we got to make shots. We got to make them miss shots, so we got to play defense. So shooting 58 percent, 52 from the three [by the opponent] is just not going to cut it.”
While the Clippers came out flat in Game 1, not great but perhaps excusable given the time off coming into the playoffs, they tried to rally late in Game 2, and came up short.
The fight is admirable, but it’s also a huge concern that a Clippers team that built major depth and saw their two superstars play consistently well during the regular season have been very much the second-best team in the first two games.
While head coach Ty Lue didn’t emphasize defense as much in his postgame comments, he did admit that through “game plan mistakes” the defensive performance was not good enough.
“Defensively, they had us all over the place. Attacking the paint, they got points in the paint. They got threes again. So that’s 35 threes in two games. [Tim] Hardaway [Jr.] is playing at a high level right now, so we got to do a good job with him coming out on Friday. But they got everything they wanted defensively tonight and I thought the game was pretty easy for them” Lue said.
Notably, both Lue and Paul George were specifically asked if they were concerned by being in an 0-2 hole, and they said they weren’t.
“There is [no concern],” said George. “It’s a competition. We got to rise to the occasion. The fact of the matter is if we don’t, we’re done for. But it’s no level of concern. We just got to play our game. We got to play through this. We got to incorporate our defense. Luka [Doncic]’s going to get his touches. We just got to do a better job defensively of just quieting everybody else.”
The Clippers were unanimous that they need to be better for Friday’s Game 3 in Dallas, but Leonard insisted a big part of the solution is to play better defense to slow down the Mavericks.
“There’s no magic, we just got to come out and play basketball, like I said, get stops. That’s the name of the game right now. They are shooting too great in the first two games. We have to help each other, we have to help each other — too many straight line drives, dunks, layups. Yeah, we got to hang our hat on the defensive end,” he said.