Clippers go into Game 6 vs. Mavericks with no room for error
DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks have the Clippers on the ropes – again.
The last time the Clippers visited Dallas the situation felt dire. They’d lost the first two games of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series at home and there wasn’t a real feel for whether – while bearing the weight of the franchise – they’d be able to pull out of the nosedive.
A pair of convincing, hope-restoring victories on the Mavericks’ home court reestablished the fourth-seeded Clippers as series favorites. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George had monstrous performances and, as a team, the Clippers said they solved fifth-seeded Dallas’ puzzle by simplifying and shoring up their defense and altering their lineup to enhance pace and mobility.
But Dallas issued a reminder Wednesday night that it has some problem-solving capabilities of its own.
The Mavs returned to L.A., packed the paint and went Boban Marjanovic-big in support of a healthier Luka Doncic – who set the NBA record, across all regular season or postseason games – by scoring or assisting on 83.8% (31 of 37) of the Mavs’ field goals in the win.
The result: a 105-100 victory, and a 3-2 lead as the series headed back to Dallas, where, for the Clippers, the situation now is dire.
A loss would end the Clippers’ 2020-21 season. Their quest for the franchise’s first NBA title would be extinguished stunningly early – earlier even than last season, when the Clippers coughed up a 3-1 series lead in the second round for the second time since 2015, denied an opportunity even to play in the Western Conference finals for the first time in team history.
An even earlier exit would only increase the intrigue in regard to Leonard’s future. Would the five-time All-Star and two-time NBA Finals MVP – who has been up-front about his plans to opt out of his current contract at season’s end – bolt for a shot at winning a third title with another team, one that’s reached a conference finals in its franchise’s history, perhaps?
What other changes could befall an organization that paid so handsomely – with a historic haul of future draft assets plus valuable players – to build a contender led by Leonard and George?
Already after last season’s recent collapse, the Clippers made a head coaching change, bidding adieu to Doc Rivers – who within days took the reins in Philadelphia, leading the 76ers to the Eastern Conference’s best regular-season record.
After evaluating a collection of candidates, the Clippers picked Rivers’ protégé and assistant coach, Tyronn Lue. He was an attractive hire, in part, because had success leading a star-studded team in Cleveland, headlined by LeBron James, to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances and that franchise’s first championship.
Known as both a players’ coach and a savvy tactician, Lue’s adjustments during the regular season and this series have helped the Clippers maintain a positive trajectory, and his cool demeanor helped them stay confident in the face of challenges such as the 2-0 series deficit.
Lue made a show of shrugging off those first two losses in L.A.
“I’m not concerned,” he said, striving to shift the pressure onto the Mavericks. “You come onto the opposing team’s floor and you play, there’s no pressure on you to make shots because you’re just trying to come in and steal one game or two games. Now they gotta go home and try to keep up the same shooting.
“It’s easy to come on the road and do that when there’s no pressure.”
Perhaps tellingly, Lue’s words didn’t carry the same crackling assurance after Wednesday’s loss, which, dating to 2017, was the Clippers’ eighth consecutive playoff loss at Staples Center – a shared home court with its challenges, including in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s defeat, the sound of someone in the building calling out, “Let’s go Lakers!” and a report of some ushers taunting the Clippers on their way off the floor.
No joke: Clippers had a few Staples Center ushers taunting them from the 100 level as they went into the tunnel
— Paolo Uggetti (@PaoloUggetti) June 3, 2021
“I think we’re fine,” Lue said of his team after the loss. “We’ll see (on Friday), but like I said, (the way) everybody talked about in the locker room, we’re good.”If the Clippers can successfully reach back into that reserve of resiliency to force a Game 7, they’ll return to Staples Center for a 12:30 p.m. tip-off on Sunday – which would present another distinctively challenging wrinkle for a team that went 3-4 this season in matinees, including losing three at home (one by 51 points to the Mavericks).
But that’s a concern for another day.
“We just got to take it one game at a time right now,” said Leonard, who missed only eight shot attempts in Games 3 and 4 combined but went 7 for 19 on Wednesday.
“Try to win Game 6, and that’s the mindset. See what we can do better from this game and just come out, be ready to fight.”
Ah hell! Throw in the towel yall. https://t.co/J9pP7qccdj
— Clip (@Clipperloyalty) June 3, 2021
early game? its a wrap https://t.co/PwaI55A1IL
— cruz (@villacruzr_) June 3, 2021
The Clippers and early games do not mix well at all, but they did this to themselves. https://t.co/el4NFqD4tG
— Predusa (@PredsDreads) June 3, 2021
actually this would be a great chance to break the curse https://t.co/tiqWuQnGvZ
— Kawhi's Leonard (@Ritcuh1) June 3, 2021