Clearly, the Mavericks took coach Rick Carlisle’s words to heart.
After he questioned the toughness his team showed in the Christmas Day debacle against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Mavericks rebounded with an effort against LA’s other team that was gritty, hard-nosed, persistent and any other tenacious-sounding word you want to use.
Blowing open a 44-point lead midway through the second quarter, the Mavericks breezed to a 124-73 smashing of the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday at Staples Center.
The Mavericks were up 62-18 with six minutes left in the first half and everything after that was just for show.
They salvaged the finale of this rugged season-opening three-game trip after losses at Phoenix and the Lakers. It was after the Christmas Day game against LeBron James and Co. that Carlisle said the Mavericks have to get tougher to correct a ridiculous 35-0 margin in second-chance points against the Lakers.
Consider their backbone bowed as the Mavericks narrowly missed their largest margin of victory in franchise history (53, vs. Philadelphia in 2014).
“This was obviously our best effort and best performance of all the games, preseason and regular season,” Carlisle said. “We had some uneven effort in the first couple games and the guys were aware of it.
“The guys decided they were going to be the hardest-playing team in the gym. I’m real proud of the way we responded to the first two games.”
Yes, the Clippers were without the injured Kawhi Leonard, who was recovering after getting eight stitches in his mouth courtesy of a blow to the jaw from teammate Serge Ibaka in Friday’s game at Denver. Even so, the Clippers have one of the deepest teams in the NBA and the Mavericks made it look easy against them.
Before the game, Carlisle had said that, no matter who’s on the court for the Clippers, the Mavericks had to come out with nothing less than “full force.”
It was all that, and more.
Luka Dončić had 13 points, six rebounds and four assists in the first quarter, after which the Mavericks were up 36-13. It became 70-23 late in the second quarter and it was clear the Mavericks were taking out some frustrations from the first two games on the Clippers.
The 77-27 advantage at halftime was the largest halftime lead in NBA history, eclipsing the 88-41 lead lead Golden State had against Sacramento in the 1991-92 season.
At the halftime juncture, every Maverick who had played was at least a plus-20 when they were on the floor.
So when’s the last time Luka had a 50-point halftime lead?
“Maybe never,” he said. “Or maybe when I was really young.”
By the end, and he didn’t have to set foot on the court in the fourth quarter, Dončić had 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Josh Richardson chipped in 21. But it wasn’t just them. Everybody played better and harder than they had in the first two games of the trip.
And, maybe, the Mavericks erased a little of the memory of last season. Remember, it was the Clippers that eliminated the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, four games to two.
This doesn’t make up for that. But it doesn’t hurt, either.
“I’d be lying if I said no,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said when asked if he thought the players were thinking a little bit about the playoff series. “Everybody still has that memory in your head. We just tried to make sure we played our brand of basketball and make sure we were able to come out on top.”
The fourth quarter was turned into a showtime of sorts for the Mavericks’ reserves, who didn’t surrender any of the big lead against the Clippers’ backups.
The Mavericks had not started out 0-3 since 2017-18, when they ended up 24-58 and parlayed that atrocious season into Luka Dončić in the draft. They certainly played like they had no intentions of letting 0-3 happen again.
They could not have asked for a better start, going up 26-5 with under 4 minutes left in the first quarter. The Clippers were 0-for-7 from 3-point range at the time and would finish the opening quarter 0-for-9 (5-for-22 overall).
That the Mavericks were cruising with a 36-13 lead meant that they had no problems the rest of the way.
“That first quarter, we didn’t win that because we were scoring,” said Richardson. “We were impacting the defense and were more physical.”
The NBA is a game of runs. That’s what we always here. So it was fair to assume that the Clippers would make a push and get back in the game.
It never happened.
And for that reason, the Mavericks were able to feel a little bit better about this opening trip.
And they got a prime example of the sort of attitude they must carry onto the court nightly.
“Part of it is we’ve got to establish a standard for ourselves as far as the level of force we’re going to play with,” Carlisle said. “The first couple of games, we didn’t have that.
“We just got to maintain it. It’s an NBA season. There’s going to be ups and downs. But how you compete, that’s a badge you wear every single game. Today, our guys didn’t allow each other to let down.”