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Three takeaways from the Clippers’ Game 5 loss

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It’s do or die time.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

The road team remained undefeated in the Clippers’ first-round series, as the Mavericks won their third game in three tries at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead.

Here’s how the Clippers failed to protect their home court yet again.

Kawhi Leonard wasn’t at his best

Leonard shot 68.5 percent on 2-pointers and 47.6 percent on 3-pointers in the first four games. He was arguably playing beyond a superstar level offensively, but unfortunately, he came back down to earth in Game 5. The Clippers didn’t have a great offensive night overall; however, that could have been overcome had Leonard been at his peak, and he wasn’t.

Dallas sent at least two to Leonard whenever he had the ball, and sometimes more, forcing him to be a passer instead of a scorer. That led to five assists, and it could have been a higher total since Ty Lue said he was happy with the quality of the shots they got. But Leonard also had five turnovers and never got going with his individual offense. He made half of his 12 2-point attempts and only 1-of-7 from 3-point range, including the final airball that would have tied the game.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Clippers
Game 5 was a struggle for Kawhi.
Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

“I thought they showed two or three bodies tonight,” Lue said postgame. “They packed the paint to make sure Kawhi got off of it. I thought we got some great shots that we didn’t make.”

“Just from the offense, we’re definitely disappointed in the loss,” Leonard said. “But we have confidence in ourselves to go out and get another win.”

Turnovers let Dallas back into the game

The Clippers appeared to have figured things out at the start of the third quarter. Reggie Jackson was cooking, the defense finally had a handle on Luka Dončić (relatively speaking, of course) by forcing him into floaters, and the small lineup was even affecting Boban Marjanović around the basket.

But then the turnovers started. The first was the most crucial, as it was an offensive foul on Paul George, his fourth foul that forced him to sit the final six and a half minutes of the period. George had 13 points and five assists at the time, and the Clippers were plus-8 in his minutes as they held a five-point lead. His absence meant that Leonard would have to shoulder a heavy offensive burden, and it didn’t go well.

On the very next possession, Leonard lost the ball out of bounds after mishandling it in the post. Luckily, that was a dead-ball giveaway, but the pain was still to come.

The Clippers called timeout up 72-69. When they came out of it, Rondo threw the ball away on a pocket pass to Ivica Zubac. That led to a Dwight Powell lay-up in transition. Leonard lost control in a crowd in the paint on the next play, and this time, it was Tim Hardaway Jr.’s turn to score on the break. L.A. maintained possession on their subsequent two trips as Jackson split a pair of threes, but then Leonard had the most inexplicable giveaway of all, resulting in a lob to Dončić. Two minutes and 26 seconds after the timeout, the Clippers had surrendered an 11-2 run, and more importantly, surrendered control of the game.

Dallas actually came into Game 5 having scored 13 fast-break points in the entire series, topping out at five in Game 2. They had six transition points in that 146-second stretch. A team that was loath to push the pace at all was goaded into doing so by comically bad turnovers, and the Mavericks took advantage.

The Clippers had their biggest lead of the game at five midway through the period, and then allowed Dallas to score the final 16 points of the third quarter to open up a 14-point lead. That was the game.

The Clippers let Luka get going again

Dončić looked like a shell of himself in Game 4 and was even listed as questionable heading into Wednesday’s contest. He looked perfectly healthy at Staples Center, and then the Clippers made his life easier. L.A.’s game plan was to force Dončić to be a scorer and not let him get his teammates going with his passing. But as Dončić got hot early — he hit five threes in the first quarter alone — the defensive discipline waned.

The Clippers started conceding the skip pass to Dončić. He was able to get into the paint, survey the court, and deliver the ball to shooters. He ended the game with 14 assists, accounting for 31 of Dallas’ 37 field goals himself. Some of those assists were easy dump offs or lobs to Boban in the middle, but a lot of them came off defensive mistakes, as the Clippers switched Zubac onto Dončić or didn’t recover off the screen in a timely fashion.

The defense wasn’t the problem overall, but the Clippers can’t afford to let Dončić beat them as a scorer and a passer. The fourth quarter was a good template for how the Clippers want to defend Dončić, as he had eight shot attempts compared to two assists. The passes have to be taken away in order for the Clippers to keep the Mavericks in check.

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