With their backs planted firmly against the wall, the Los Angeles Clippers came into American Airlines Center and pulled themselves off the ground and got out of the arena with an emotional 118-108 victory.
With the win, the Clippers now trail the Mavs, 2-1, in this best-of-seven series. Game 4 will be back here Sunday at 8:30 p.m. and Game 5 will take place Wednesday in Los Angeles.
A crowd of over 17,000 was all jacked up for the game as the Mavs played their first playoff game at home since April 23, 2016. But the fans left disappointed after the Mavs blew a 19-point first-quarter lead as the Clippers crawled back into this series.
“We obviously got off to a very fast start and then they climbed back into it,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “They shot it great.
“Their two superstars had great games — they rode those guys. They played very well. We’re going to have to play better in Game 4.”
Luka Doncic poured in 44 points, snatched nine rebounds and dispensed nine assists in a virtual one-man show of force. But the Clippers countered that with 36 points and eight rebounds from Kawhi Leonard, 29 points and seven boards from Paul George and three fourth-quarter 3-pointers from Marcus Morris Sr.
With Doncic scoring eight points, the Mavs jumped out to an 11-0 lead. That cushion mushroomed to as high as 30-11 following a drive by Jalen Brunson with 4:38 remaining in the first quarter.
But the Clippers regrouped and got back in the game by rattling off 14 unanswered points. By the end of the first quarter the Mavs had lost nearly all of their lead and were only ahead, 34-31.
Thus, this is the first time this season – after 29 wins—that the Mavs have lost a game which they led after the first quarter. And most the lead shrunk when Doncic went to the bench for his customary rest late in the first quarter.
“I think we took a couple of bad shots,” said Doncic, who was 7-of-13 from 3-point range and 7-of-13 from the free throw line. “We relaxed a little bit when we got up, so we got to work on that and especially work on free throws.”
The Mavs were only down, 97-94, until Morris drained three huge buckets from 3-point range that got LA a comfortable 112-110 lead with 3:33 remaining. Another 3-pointer by Reggie Jackson padded the LA lead to 115-102 with 1:55 to go.
While Maxi Kleber and Brunson tallied 14 points apiece and Tim Hardaway Jr. added 12, Kristaps Porzingis was held to just nine points and three rebounds and was handcuffed a bit by the Clippers’ smaller lineup.
“There’s certain situations KP’s very good with post ups,” Carlisle said. “I don’t want to get into a lot of details explaining the whole thing, but we’re a spacing team first and when we get good deep post-up opportunities, those are the ones we got to attack. Part of the challenge with him is that he’s a very good cutter, he’s a very good spacer. He needs to play the game out of reads and movement.
“Overall, our offensive movement wasn’t very good, but the bigger problem tonight was the defense. We’re not going to make this about missed shots, opportunities to post up KP or anybody else. We’ve got to defend better. We give up 59 percent shooting to this team you’re going to have a very difficult time winning the game unless you’re shooting galactically great. And in a playoff series that’s very difficult to do.”
While collecting just 17 assists, the Mavs only shot 44.2 percent from the field and missed six of their 18 free throw attempts. But they did convert 20 of 39 shots from 51.3 percent from downtown, and that kept them in the game, along with the super human performance from Doncic.
“We didn’t have our best offensive night, not defensive,” said Porzingis, who was 3-of-10 from the floor. “We can do both better.
“The game is long and a lot of emotions and a lot of momentum changes. They were the better team tonight.”
Porzingis said his performance was “below what I can do. Just frustrating moments and trying to keep my head in the right place and keep doing the things I can do on the defensive end, and offensive rebounds and things like that to keep myself engaged and giving what I can to the team.
“I definitely can do a better job of sealing the guards when I have a guard on me and I have to score on those – the post-ups that I had. I had great looks and I just missed the shots.”
The game, of course, got chippy, with technical fouls dealt out. Willie Cauley-Stein was even accessed both a technical foul and a Flagrant-1 foul. All of the chippy play seemed to have gotten the Mavs off their game.
“First of all it was a very crowded place and we were super hyped about having our fans,” Kleber said. “It was super loud and that pushed us as a team. Obviously on both sides there were a lot of emotions involved.
“I think we came out pretty strong and confident and played well. We got an early lead, but we have to keep the lead and maintain it. We can’t give it away in two minutes and let them come back like that.”
“Look, it’s a long game,” he said. “You’ve got to play out the entire first quarter and then the entire second quarter, third and fourth. It’s almost three hours of basketball when you count up a national TV game with long pauses, and there’s going to be two, three or four review situations.
“Good strong starts are important. I certainly don’t blame the loss on that at all. Look, they had a great night and we did not. We’re going to have to play a lot better at both ends in Game 4.”