The Los Angeles Clippers on Monday were like teenagers that hadn’t eaten all day on a long road trip with the parents.
They were hangry, starving for sustenance in the form of a victory.
Or some payback.
They got both at American Airlines Center with a rugged 109-99 victory, curbing the Mavericks’ momentum that has been growing for nearly a month.
On the bright side, the Mavericks still are plus-41 in their two meetings against the Clippers. Clearly, the visitors remembered that 51-point beatdown the Mavericks put on them at Christmastime in LA.
Making the Clips’ mood even more foul was their 20-point loss Sunday night at New Orleans.
Because of that, the Mavericks knew it would be a battle. But they had a shot down the stretch, before they were outlasted by Kawhi Leonard and Co.
The loss dropped the Mavericks back to 20-18 as they failed in their attempt to get four games over .500 for the first time this season, which is two games beyond the midpoint.
They got as close as 103-99 after a 9-2 surge but they would go scoreless in the final 3:14 of the game and Leonard converted a three-point play with 2:08 to go to give the Clippers breathing room.
Coach Rick Carlisle said the Mavericks needed “amazing poise and aggression.” And at times, they got it. But the beginning of the game was poor, falling behind by 14 points, and the finish was worse – 0-for-5 from the field with two turnovers in the final 3:14.
“We had a tough start,” Carlisle said. “I thought we responded very well and made the adjustments that the game required in terms of the physical level. But it’s difficult to win against a team like this when you react.
“This is high-level, playoff-caliber basketball in the middle of March. It’s a great challenge for us and we’ll study it and make some adjustments and Wednesday we’re going to have to do things better.”
The Mavericks were a bit shy on big men as Dwight Powell was unavailable because of an illness that coach Rick Carlisle said was not COVID-19 related. In addition, James Johnson remained out while tending to a personal matter.
It remains possible one or both could be back by Wednesday’s rematch.
The Mavericks had assorted problems on Monday. They got outrebounded badly and shot just five free throws. But as Tim Hardaway Jr. said, that was a product of the referees treating it like a meaningful game between two good teams.
“I think the refs just wanted to make it feel like a playoff atmosphere, which it was,” Hardaway said of Mavs’ lack of free-throw attempts.
Hardaway had 21 points off the bench. Kristaps Porzingis had 22 and Luka Dončić had a terrific statistical night with 25 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds. While the triple-double was nice, the seven turnovers made life tougher for the Mavericks. Overall, they had 14 miscues that led to 15 Clippers’ points.
“We had some untimely turnovers throughout the game . . . a lot for us,” Carlisle said.
Depending on your vantage point, Monday could have been either a really good time or a terrible time to be catching the Clippers.
It turned out to be a bad time.
The Mavericks had plastered the Clips by 51 points in the third game of the season in LA. The first-half score was 77-27, biggest margin in NBA history at halftime.
And, as if that wouldn’t have the Clippers in a foul mood, they were coming off a Sunday night loss in New Orleans. The Pelicans thumped them by 20 points.
So the chip was certainly on LA’s shoulder.
However, they clearly have been struggling of late, losing four of their last five going back to pre-All-Star break. Plus, they were without noted defensive pest Patrick Beverley, as well as veteran big man Serge Ibaka, both starters.
And yet, the Clippers came out with guns blazing. And the Mavericks never got enough defensive stands to get into the driver’s seat.
The Mavericks certainly did not get blindsided. They knew the Clippers would be throwing a silver-bullet effort their way. And the visitors looked very much like the team that beat the Mavericks 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs last season at the Walt Disney World bubble in August.