Wednesday night, Carlisle’s court craftsmanship was on full display after he made tactical decisions that went right along with the natural game flow and brought out the best in his second unit. Carlisle was able to sit star Luka Dončić for long stretches because of foul trouble and the bench responded with 47 points on 19-of-31 field goals, and that helped Dallas defeat the Los Angeles Clippers, 127-114.
Carlisle is considered one of the top coaches in the game because he artfully puts his players in the right positions to succeed. His next-man-up mentally allows him to make adjustments on the fly, and the trio of Trey Burke (16 points), Seth Curry (15 points) and Boban Marjanović (13 points) proved the value of this theory in Game 2.
The Mavs’ also forced the Clippers into committing 15 turnovers with scrappy defense to secure the all-important Game 2 victory.
“This is how we’re going to have to win games,” Carlisle said. “Our depth is going to be a big part of it. The guys off the bench did a tremendous job. Trey Burke was great, Seth Curry was great. Boban (Marjanović) gave us great minutes tonight. It’s a group that’s had some time together during the year, during some stretches, particularly when Luka was out. They know how to play together.”
Dončić scored 28 points and Kristaps Porzingis poured in 23 points. Curry led his team with an impressive +30 rating.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said the Mavericks are a strong team and Game 2 bolstered the Mavs’ confidence.
“I think they were dangerous, pretty confident coming into (the game),” Rivers said. “They showed that in Game 1. We jumped on them and they came right back. Honestly they’re playing better than us right now. We have to pick our play up.”
Carlisle was successful during the 2011 championship run because he allowed Jason Kidd to take control and serve as the floor general. That season mirrors the current Mavs’ squad in many respects with Dončić at the helm, only he’s 21 years old and not 38 with years of NBA experience under his belt.
Still, whether it’s Kidd or Dončić, Carlisle finds a way to adjust to his players’ strengths in a free-flowing offense that’s more player-focused than game plan-heavy.
Carlisle is big on developing a mentality for consistency and a high level of competitiveness. He knows it’s not always going to be perfect, but he preaches trust and sticking together. He believes in his leaders, no matter their age, and relies on them to bring out the best in everyone.
“On the floor, (Luka’s) developing into such a great leader,” Carlisle said after the game. “It’s not all about the triple-doubles, it’s also about how great players like him give their teammates confidence and how they direct traffic and keep people in the game.”
Burke prospered in Game 2 thanks to the Clippers giving him plenty of space and he bounced-back sharply after a lackluster opening game. Burke said Carlisle is a big reason he was able to dazzle for Dallas.
“Coach Carlisle and my teammates, they just told me to be myself when I got here,” Burke said. “Not to try to be anybody else out there but Trey Burke. And that’s a playmaker. On offense, being able to breakdown the defense and score at will. Or if something is not there get somebody else a great shot. And then defensively, there’s been like a defensive label that’s been on me since I’ve been in this league that I’ve been trying to to embrace.”
Carlisle is the first to admit that he can’t do it without his staff, including Stephen Silas, Jamahl Mosley, Darrell Armstrong, Mike Weinar, Jenny Boucek, God Shammgod and Peter Patton.
After the win, he alluded to the importance of the team’s psyche entering the game, something that should never be underestimated when a team is considered underdogs in this series.
“We took a step tonight in the right direction,” Carlisle said. “It’s important to feel what winning feels like.”
On Friday, Dončić will enter the game with one more record added to his long list of accomplishments. He has now recorded the most points (70) in his first two playoff games of anyone since the NBA/ABA merger, beating out Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by one point. George Mikan had 75 points in his first two NBA playoff games in 1949.
“I was frustrated for like 15 seconds and then I was focused,” Dončić said after Wednesday’s game about watching from the bench. “We won the game. Maybe if I don’t take that (fifth) foul, we don’t win the game. So it’s OK.”
The Mavs led from the opening basket to the final whistle Wednesday, marking their seventh such win this season. It’s the first wire-to-wire win in the playoffs for Dallas since Game 3 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals at OKC.
The journey here actually started last summer when Carlisle traveled across the world to visit players at their homes. He went sightseeing and worked out with Dončić in Slovenia and coached with Porzingis in Latvia at a Basketball Without Borders event. Last August, Carlisle even flew his plane to Virginia to celebrate Dorian Finney-Smith’s youth basketball camp in his hometown.
The bonding experience has translated into a more meaningful relationship on the court, Finney-Smith said.
“My little city hasn’t ever seen anything like that,” Finney-Smith said. “I told (Carlisle) there’s no amount of money he could have sent that could replace him actually being there. Some of those kids probably will never see an NBA coach in person ever again.”
So how will Carlisle inspire his team to build on the momentum as they prepare for Game 3 on Friday night?
Porzingis has an answer: “Humble confidence is the key for us.”
Tamara Jolee, Dallas Mavericks