Physical Mavericks out to extend series lead on Clippers

By Thomson Reuters Apr 27, 2024 | 2:30 PM

For a team that ranked just No. 20 in the NBA in scoring defense during the regular season, a defensive-oriented Western Conference first-round playoff series matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers has suited the Dallas Mavericks well ahead of hosting Game 4 on Sunday.

Dallas took a 2-1 lead on Friday with a 101-90 win at home. The Game 3 matchup marked the third straight in which the Mavericks held the Clippers to fewer than Los Angeles’ regular-season average of 115.6 points per game and less than Dallas’ 115.6 regular-season allowance.

It was also Dallas’ second straight win in the series when they kept Los Angeles to fewer than 100 points. Dallas evened the best-of-seven series with a 96-93 victory on Tuesday in Los Angeles. The Clippers won the series opener 109-97.

Then again, the low scores could have something to do with the growing intensity of the series with the Clippers’ Russell Westbrook and the Mavericks’ P.J. Washington ejected in the fourth quarter of Game 3 after a skirmish that grew from a physical game.

“We’re all competing for each inch to find a way to win,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “This series is going to be more mental as it goes on because of the physicality. … We have to be sharp, and we have to understand what’s taking place. I thought the guys did a great job of protecting one another.”

The Mavericks’ Luka Doncic, the NBA’s leading scorer in the regular season at 33.9 points, finished with 22 points in Game 3 on 7-of-25 shooting from the floor, including 3 of 14 from 3-point range.

Doncic delivered 33 and 32 points, respectively, in the series’ first two games.

“Luka has to take what they’re giving,” Kidd said. “The Clippers are a really good defensive team. They’re physical with Luka.”

Doncic nearly put up a triple-double with 10 rebounds and nine assists. He also had support from Kyrie Irving, who scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half. Irving has averaged 25.0 points in the series.

As Los Angeles looks to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole before heading home for Game 5 on Wednesday, the Clippers face uncertainty with Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard, whose 23.7 points per game led the Clippers in the regular season, missed Game 1 due to knee inflammation. Leonard last played on March 31 when he returned to the lineup for Game 2 and finished with just 15 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the floor.

Leonard scored nine points on 4-of-7 shooting in Game 3 and exited without returning in the final three minutes.

Leonard said status for Game 4 is unclear: “(We’ll) see, but I want to play.”

“Just being smart, making sure we’re doing right by Kawhi, seeing how he feels,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s still trying to find his rhythm. We’ve got to make sure we help him do that.”

James Harden, Paul George and Ivica Zubac combined to power the Clippers in their Game 1 win with 28, 22 and 20 points, respectively. Zubac also grabbed 15 rebounds.

Harden and George each scored 22 points in the Game 2 loss at home, but the Mavericks held George to only seven points in Game 3 on 3-of-11 shooting.

Harden and Norman Powell each scored 21 points for Los Angeles. The duo shot a combined 9-of-14 from 3-point range. The rest of the Clippers shot 1-of-15 from beyond the arc.

Los Angeles – a 38.1 percent shooting team from long distance during the regular season – is 18 of 59 (25.4 percent) from 3-point territory over the last two losses.

–Field Level Media