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Clippings: The Clippers validated Ty Lue and Paul George’s confidence

Games 3 and 4 showed why the Clippers weren’t concerned after falling down 2-0.

2021 Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

After losing Game 2 in Los Angeles, the Clippers’ second straight loss at home to begin the postseason, Ty Lue and Paul George were surprisingly upbeat about the team’s chances in the series. Both individuals shared statements that seemed primed for mocking at the moment and moving forward given the situation the Clippers found themselves in.

For instance, after Dallas made 35-of-70 3-pointers in the first two games, a clean 50 percent, Lue suggested that the pressure was on the Mavericks to continue that level of hot shooting at home.

“You come in on an opposing team’s floor and play, there’s no pressure on you to make shots,” Lue said after Game 2. “You just try to come in and steal a game, steal two games. But now they gotta go home and keep up the same shooting. It’s easy to go on the road and do that with no pressure. We’ll see in Game 3.”

It seemed like a strange challenge, given that role players in particular are expected to shoot better in their own building. But Lue may have been on to something. The Mavericks shot 35.9 percent on threes at the American Airlines Center while going 21-15 during the regular season. That mark crept up to 36.5 percent on the road, where the Mavs also went 21-15.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks v LA Clippers
Ty Lue has remained confident in his team’s chances in the first round, despite an avalanche of evidence indicating otherwise.
Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

In Game 3, the Clippers defeated the Mavericks even as Dallas continued to rain fire from 3-point range (20-of-39). But the No. 5 seed finally cooled down Sunday, in a big way, as the Mavericks made only 5-of-30 threes. They didn’t look as carefree in Game 3 trying to protect a lead as they did in Los Angeles, and they completely lost their composure by the end of Game 4, proving Lue prescient.

George’s comments after Game 2 were equally as puzzling as his head coach’s. When asked what the concern level was heading to Dallas winless, George said there was none.

“It’s no level of concern,” George added. “We just got to play our game. We got to play through this.”

It was a bold statement to make, and one that rang a little hollow, considering the pressure that was on the Clippers. This was a championship contender two games away from a first-round exit, and the best player on the court was suiting up for the other team.

When asked after Game 3 where the confidence came from in spite of the situation, George said, “We felt like we weren’t playing our game to begin with to be down 0-2. We felt like we weren’t playing our style, and I thought tonight we got to that. This is where we hang our hat on, playing on the defensive side, and we didn’t show any defense the first two games.”

In that framing, George’s thoughts made a little more sense. He knew that the Clippers had a defensive gear they hadn’t yet reached — which really showed up in Game 4 — and that would help the team change the tenor of the series. George was more sure than the general public that the defense would eventually show up, but he was right to know that the Clippers had that in their back pocket. Although Dallas was playing better, L.A. had the tools to match and even surpass the Mavericks, which became clear in Games 3 and 4.

2021 NBA Playoffs - LA Clippers v Dallas Mavericks
Paul George believed in the Clippers’ defensive potential, which allowed him to project confidence in dire circumstances.
Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Only six percent of NBA teams have won a best-of-seven series after being down 2-0. When the home team lost the first two games, 12.9 percent of teams came back to win the round. Now, after winning the last two games, the Clippers have upped those odds to 77.9 percent.

Two games ago, the Clippers were heavy underdogs. Now, they’re overwhelming favorites to advance to the conference semifinals, and their leaders would appear to be validated in their collective belief. They projected confidence and even cockiness when it was hard to have any, and the rest of the team backed them up. What seemed like meme-able comments just a few days earlier are now the signs of strength the Clippers needed when they were at their lowest.

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