Experience helped the Mavericks in Game 1.
So did their strength-in-numbers mentality.
But Tim Hardaway Jr. put a finger on perhaps the most important thing the Mavericks had at their disposal in the 113-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers Saturday.
“What also helps is having the big fella out there and not getting thrown in the first game of the playoffs,” Hardaway said. “I think that helps out a lot.”
The big fella is Kristaps Porzingis, who showed in the fourth quarter how he can impact a playoff game in which he struggled for the first three periods.
Porzingis fought through a tough shooting game, then made a handful of plays that kept the Mavericks’ momentum rolling at a time when the Clippers were determined not to let Luka Dončić beat them with his scoring.
The Mavericks’ superstar had just one fourth-quarter point. That didn’t ruin his body of work. He had a 31-point triple-double.
But when time came to step up down the stretch, Porzingis played virtually all the final eight minutes, had six points, two rebounds, made two of three shots and two key free throws.
He said it required a lot of patience.
“We have a lot of weapons, a lot of tools,” Porzingis said. “I had an off night tonight and we still were able to get the win. Other guys stepped up and played great.
“Patience is a big thing and I get frustrated (and sometimes) feel like I’m out of the offense. (That’s when we) just do what’s best for the team. And that was a great team win.”
Porzingis finished with 14 points on 4-of-13 shooting. But considering he was 2-of-10 through three quarters, he salvaged things pretty well. And there was a reason why Porzingis had difficulty getting a rhythm offensively, coach Rick Carlisle said.
“He’s got a top-five defensive player in the world guarding him in Kawhi Leonard,” Carlisle said. “They have that much respect for his abilities at the offensive end. And he did a very good job of staying patient and finding ways to create advantages as the game went along.
“There were a couple of stretches that he got a little frustrated and took a couple shots that may not have been the best shots. But in the end, I loved his discipline, his patience and the big free throws were huge at the end of the game. And the dunk put a cap on it.”
Porzingis scored four of the points in a 9-2 sprint that put the Mavericks in charge 109-102 with under a minute to play.
It was a stark reversal from last season, when the Mavericks played the Clippers and Porzingis got ejected in the opening game when the Mavericks had a lead, but ultimately ended up losing.
This time, Porzingis and all of the Mavericks seemed to have a better calmness about them.
“That poise comes with experience,” Porzingis said. “Having lost last season to them gives us that extra bit of experience that we need. But the series are long. This is the first game. We did what we expected us to do. And that’s it, onto the next one.”
LA’s defensive matters: The Mavericks did a fabulous job of getting contributions from everybody.
Yes, Luka got his 31 points, but Jalen Brunson was a beast off the bench with 15 points, Dorian Finney-Smith had a career playoff-best 18 points, Hardaway had 21 and Josh Richardson had a very efficient eight points in 17 minutes.
That did not sit well with the Clippers’ Nic Batum.
“If we want to win that series, we better make sure we take all those guys out of the series as well,” Batum said. “We know what Luka is going to do, obviously. He’s been a great player. But we got to make sure the other guys (don’t) have a great series. Some of those guys had great games today.”
Masked men no more: Both Carlisle and LA coach Ty Lue elected to go without masks while they were on the sideline for Game 1 after the NBA said earlier Saturday that face coverings were optional for head coaches.
The move by the league was made because restrictions have been eased by the Center for Disease Control.
“It’s a great move,” said Carlisle, who is president of the National Basketball Coaches Association. “I think it aligns with where the CDC is. It’s something we had talked to the league about as a coaches’ association to ask them to consider, in accordance with the updated CDC guidelines.”
There are obvious advantages to being unsheathed, Carlisle said.
“It helps communications, and there are so many aspects of communication,” he said. “It’s not just your voice, but also there’s a visual aspect of being able to communicate more effectively both with your team and officials.”
Said LA’s Lue: “I think it’s better because now the guys can hear me on the floor and you don’t have to keep pulling your mask down. Them being able to hear you and being able to communicate better, that’d be the biggest difference.”
Carlisle said he talked to an NBA front-office staffer Friday and said the decision was made to let coaches be maskless during the flow of the game.
However, they still were required to wear face coverings pregame and when maneuvering around the arena, such as to and from the locker room.
Fans in the stands: The Clippers announced the attendance as 6,117. The Mavericks have said they will have closer to a full house for playoff games than the roughly 4,500 they had the last couple months of the season.
And Hardaway said he felt like starting on the road felt more normal with fans pulling against the Mavericks.
“Definitely the atmosphere, seeing fans in there felt really, really good,” he said. “Seeing people courtside felt good, felt in the norm.
“And that’s just a big takeaway from last year to this year is that atmosphere and the presence of fans being in the arena watching and making sure the opposing team isn’t making free throws or are distracting you.
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