It comes down to this for the Mavericks.
After boycotts and talks and coalitions and all the things that have transpired since Tuesday, they still face the same daunting challenge: they have to win on Sunday afternoon or their season is over.
They have beaten the Los Angeles Clippers twice, once without Kristaps Porzingis.
The Mavericks trail 3-2 in the best-of-seven first-round series. Neither team has won two games in a row. The Mavericks hope to keep that trend – and their basketball lives – going.
“We need to believe in ourselves,” Boban Marjanović said on Saturday. “This is the main thing. We are professionals. We need to go out there and believe.”
Maybe it’s been said too many times, but it’s true: you gotta believe.
In yourself, in your life and in your convictions.
The NBA has made it clear how strongly they are committed to social justice.’
Now, the Mavericks get a chance to make a stand for themselves, an admittedly smaller agenda, but not so much when you consider it’s their livelihood.
Forcing a Game 7 in their competitive battle with the Clippers is their only concern.
They will have to do so without Porzingis, whose meniscus tear has sidelined him for at least the rest of the first round.
“We’re going to do everything possible to get to a Game 7,” coach Rick Carlisle said on Saturday. “You’ve seen it the last two games. It’s really tough to lay out a set rotation because of the Clippers personnel and the matchup problems they present.
“It goes without saying we have to play better. In our wins in this series . . . if you count the possessions, we’re a plus-19 in our wins and a minus-19 in our losses. So possession stats are critical. We got to take better care of the ball. And we got to rebound the ball. That’s the starting point.”
The Mavericks know they can score. With Luka Dončić running the point, the Mavericks are going to put up points. If they are going to get to the ultimate finish to this series in Game 7, it’s going to require attention to the details Carlisle mentioned.
Rebounding. Not throwing away the ball. And grit on the defensive end.
And, in all probability, the Mavericks will need a big contribution from somebody they aren’t expecting to get it from.
“We’re going whistle-to-whistle with it,” Carlisle said. “Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has given us some really good minutes. He’s obviously an important guy. Bobi has done some very good things in this series. And Dorian (Finney-Smith) and Maxi (Kleber) have been our two starting bigs. We just got to figure out a way to hang in and compete at a high level. Obviously we did it in Game 4. Game 5 was ugly really right from the start. And Game 6, we got to bounce back.”
Finney-Smith and Kleber, both seeing their first playoff action in their careers, have had some meaningful minutes.
But if ever the Mavericks need both of them to step up, it will be Sunday.
The same can be said of everybody that suits up.
Remembering Uncle Cliffy: Rick Carlisle always begins his media sessions with a historical anniversary note about oppression in America.
On Saturday, he followed that with a comment about Clifford Robinson, one of the originators of big men who played on the perimeter and the guy affectionately known as “Uncle Cliffy,” who died Saturday.
“My understanding is he had cancer and some complications, 53 years old,” Carlisle said. “I had the privilege of coaching Cliff twice, once as an assistant with the Trail Blazers in the mid-‘90s and then he joined us in Detroit in my first year, 2001-02 and helped turn that team from a 32-win team to a 50-win team.
“He’s one of the most underrated players really in the history of the league. He was a great defender and a really gifted offensive player. A very sad day. He died far too young.”
Robinson shares a historical footnote with Dirk Nowitzki. The 6-10 Robinson was one of three players in NBA history with at least 1,000 blocked shots and 1,000 3-pointers, joining Nowitzki and Rasheed Wallace.
Dončić doing well: The Mavericks had several players listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, including Tim Hardaway Jr. (cervical strain), Trey Burke (left ankle), Dorian Finney-Smith (hips) and Luka Dončić (left ankle).
Since it’s a do-or-die game, all are going to do everything they can to play.
Carlisle said Dončić is assured of playing.
“The ankle’s doing well, all things considered,” Carlisle said. “I think the extra two or three days is a plus, certainly. In practice today (Saturday), he looked pretty good. Going into tomorrow, I don’t think he’s going to be limited.”