The natural reaction to the Mavericks’ 114-99 loss Tuesday night is to fear that the Los Angeles Clippers gave a blueprint to the rest of the NBA about how to deal with Luka Doncic.
The good news for the Mavericks is that blueprint probably won’t work near as well if Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley aren’t the ones executing it.
Doncic was slowed down about as much as he’s been at any point in this magical season he’s got going. He missed all eight of his 3-point shots, had seven turnovers, was 4-of-14 from the field overall and finished with 22 points, eight below his average.
The Clippers’ physical defense had almost everything to do with those numbers.
On the bright side, if this is going to be Doncic’s subpar games, the Mavericks can live with it.
But how did the Clippers do it?
“We pride ourselves on defense,” George said. “We want to make it tough on a nightly basis for whoever we’re playing.
“We knew Luka does so much for them – he creates offense, he’s a scorer, he rebounds. He does so much for them that we knew we had to wear him down. We had to tire him out and we had to go at him on the offensive end. And then, defensively, we just kept a body on him. We never gave him a good look. We switched multiple bodies onto him. We tried to throw whatever we could at him. Tonight, we were successful with it.”
Said Clippers’ sixth man Lou Williams: “We got a lot of individual defenders on our team. Some of the coverages we had on him today, he never had a break, no matter who was switching on him. He just never gets a break. I thought we did an excellent job of giving him different looks and making it difficult for him to get into his rhythm.”
Williams, by the way, had 21 points off the bench for the Clippers. Combined with Leonard and George, LA’s big three combined for 75 points.
And yet, they still were impressed with Doncic.
“He’s a great player,” Williams said. “I think he’s an all-star. He’s going to be a great talent for the city of Dallas and the organization for the Mavericks for a very long time.”
Unfortunately for the Mavericks on this night, the Clippers had a championship gear that they shifted into. The Mavericks couldn’t match it.
And the Clippers did, indeed, switch all sorts of defenders on Doncic. And they got physical with him, although that’s nothing out of the ordinary for the Clippers.
Doncic hit the deck a couple of times early in the game and that seemed to have an impact on him.
“We didn’t do anything different, really,” said Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers. “We played our defense. We trapped some with the five. We switched a lot. The difference is, when we switch, instead of Pat guarding him, it’s Kawhi. Instead of Kawhi guarding him, it’s Paul George. So we had a lot of guys that could switch and I thought that was effective because it took them out of the roll game and all the other stuff.
“We are physical. We talk every night about being a more physical team. But we didn’t say: let’s be physical with Luka. Doncic is physical in his own right, probably as physical as you’re going to see.”
Before the game, Rivers could not gush enough about Luka Doncic. He tossed out names like James Harden, Larry Bird and LeBron James when comparing certain aspects of the Mavericks’ superstar’s game.
“He’s as talented as there is in the league,” Rivers said.
And then Rivers’ team spent the rest of the night making life miserable for Doncic.
Waiting in the wings: It appears that Tim Hardaway Jr. has claimed the starting job in the backcourt alongside Luka Doncic.
But that doesn’t mean Seth Curry, who had started most of the games until he came down with an illness last week, won’t have a significant role moving forward.
Carlisle said that Curry still was recovering from the illness that kept him out of two games last week. He returned against Houston on Sunday, but did not look like himself, Carlisle said.
“Coming off his illness, he needed to get back into it certainly with the Houston game the other night,” Carlisle said. “And also he played in a game after practice yesterday with some of the guys that haven’t played a lot of minutes and our interns just to get conditioning and rhythm back.
“When you get out with a stomach bug, that can take a lot of energy out of you. And getting back into it, it’s hard jumping out there against Houston. I expect that he’s in much better shape to play today than he was a couple days ago.”
Curry’s shot came around against the Clippers. He hit 3-of-5 from long distance and finished with 13 points.
Briefly: Center-forward Maxi Kleber was on the injury report before the game with a right knee contusion, but he came off the bench and played his normal amount of minutes . . . The Mavericks will hit the road for three games starting Friday in Phoenix . . . J.J. Barea came off the bench in the third quarter and put in 16 solid minutes, scoring 12 points and hitting two of his three 3-pointers. He sparked a mild rally, although the Mavericks never got closer than 14 in the second half.