Clippers-Mavericks: Luka Doncic’s free-throw woes turned elephants in the room, and Dallas got lost
If you had asked the Dallas Mavericks, before their first-round streak began against the Clippers, if they would be happy with a 2-2 tie before Game 5, they almost certainly would have said yes. On paper, as a lower-ranking team taking on a top-tier championship contender, they are about as well placed as one might reasonably expect. But it’s how they got to this point that stings.
Dallas led 2-0 in that series and had a 19-point lead in Game 3. You could feel the Clippers about to crack. All the pressure they were feeling after losing that 3-1 lead to Denver in the bubble, with critics of Paul George circling like vultures, Luka Doncic playing out of his mind – whatever momentum matters, the Mavericks had it all.
Here we are now, with the Clippers turning the story around completely, stripping Dallas of their overwhelming confidence while regaining the home court advantage with a 106-81 victory on Sunday. Credit the Clippers. The obituaries of their failed super-team experience were already being written. The odds of Kawhi Leonard’s next team were being calculated. Everything was going to hell. Less resilient teams reportedly booked vacations two days ago.
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But the Clippers fought back, and now it’s the Mavericks on the ropes. Leonard – who has sunk 38 of his 53 shots (72%) in the last three games, including 9 for 15 on 3 points – is suddenly on a refusal to lose crusade. George, who has quietly been very good this whole series, is there with him. The Clippers composed to the end defensively.
Meanwhile, Doncic (sprained neck) seems strained to hold his head straight. He climbed to 19 points on Sunday, making six of his seven 3-point attempts and five free throws. This last statistic has become an elephant in the room. Doncic, who shot 73 percent from the free throw line this season and 76 percent last season, has 13 for 32 (40 percent) of the strip in this series.
If anyone deserves a little slack, it’s Doncic. Again, he’s playing poorly, and his level of responsibility for carrying this Mavericks team is noticeably higher than any other player in this playoffs. He averaged 38 points in the first three games. Drawn 46% of 3. Played all games the Mavericks needed.
Still, they need more than that on the free throw line. If Dallas is lucky, the final two, if not three, of this series will be close, and we’re not talking about a few hiccups here. Luka can’t touch anything. The free throw line looks like the last place on earth he wants to be. A Yankee Stadium pitcher who has lost control. It’s iconic of the Mavericks as a whole. Their confidence is visibly shaken.
If a cold streak like this could be explained, you could perhaps compare Luka’s 41% rating on jumpers out of the dribble (usually highly contested) to his 36% rating on catches and shots not. monitored, by Synergie. Something in there might suggest some level of discomfort the more time he has to think. More and more, the main ball handlers prefer to generate their shooting rhythm from the dribble. As slim as it is, this is the only explanation I can imagine.
In light of her neck injury, it’s a shame that supposed Doncic co-star Kristaps Porzingis couldn’t launch an emergency rescue mission, but this ship apparently sailed. Despite some decent numbers, Porzingis has been a non-factor in this series. I don’t know why Dallas flaunts it so much; it’s about as strong as a three-legged chair. Defensively, he is a minus. He does not discourage anything at the edge. He struggles to keep the perimeter. He loses the guys on the ball for easy cuts.
Honestly, Porzingis’ place on that Dallas team is another story for another day. There are a lot of factors, his chief bloated contract among them. For now, Dallas can only hope for a wild game from Porzingis. Otherwise, Luka is the only featured supplier.
If Doncic can regain his dominance, he has help. Tim Hardaway Jr. went off beyond the arc in the first three games before going 0 for 4 in Game 4. Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith, Jalen Brunson, all of those guys pulled it off. hits this series. They will have to heat up. It’s not over yet. But given their position with a 2-0 lead in the series and a 30-11 lead in Game 3, it’s certainly starting to look like a series the Mavericks let slip of.