The Dallas Mavericks came out like a house of fire in Game 3, jumping all over the Los Angeles Clippers on their way to a 30-11 lead midway through the first quarter. It was at that point a red-hot Luka Doncic took his usual rest period ahead of the second quarter. The game, and perhaps the series as a whole, would invariably turn in LA’s favor from that moment onward.
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Staging an 18-4 run, the Clippers would cut the once 19-point lead to four, technically playing into Dallas’s streak of 29 consecutive wins when leading after the first quarter, but unquestionably sacrificing any notion of control against the road team. Despite 44 points, 9 assists, and 9 rebounds from Luka Doncic, Dallas would fall 118-108 to the Clippers, narrowing missing out on a commanding 3-0 series lead in the process.
In the game, Dallas’s second-leading scorer would manage just 14 points -that being Jalen Brunson off the bench. Kristaps Porzingis, meanwhile, would put forth a career-playoff low of 9 points on 3-10 shooting in 34 minutes. In a series in which Los Angeles’s two stars have been brilliant, Doncic has found himself largely alone in what was billed to be a battle of star duos. While Porzingis did play better in Game 4 -18 points on 7/12 shooting, his overall regression, particularly on the defensive end, has left him a shell of his former self.
While Dallas’s role players played lights out in Games 1 and 2, taking advantage of LA’s defensive breakdowns and missed rotations, they absolutely cratered over the last game and a half in Dallas, leaving Doncic to carry the full burden of the scoring load for his team. While that would be bad enough against a sound roster like the Clippers, a cervical strain suffered sometime in Game 3 drastically reduced Doncic’s effectiveness in Game 4, and briefly left him listed as ‘questionable’ for the game all together.
Now, as the series pivots back to a crucial Game 5, Dallas finds itself with its backs against the wall. All momentum in the series is gone now, and unlike LA’s two opening losses, they haven’t played well enough to win and just need to keep plucking away until they steal a win. Following the first half in Game 3, they’ve cooled off considerably, and their defense, which wasn’t great to begin the series, has only gotten worse as Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers repeatedly attack the heart of the Mavs defense for easy buckets.
Barring some major adjustments or a return the hot-shooting that saw Dallas shoot an obscene 50% from 3 through 3 games, it’s likely the Mavs have already let slip their best chance to upend the favored Clippers in what was for them a revenge series from the 2020 Orlando Bubble. Doncic is clearly playing injured and is drastically less effective as a result. His sure-handed cast of role players have dropped off considerably without the quality looks he so regularly spoon fed them throughout the season and series.
If something doesn’t change soon, the 106-81 pantsing the Mavs suffered in Game 4 won’t be their last of the series.