When Luka Dončić faded away, pushed off of one leg like another Maverick great used to, and buried a 16-foot jumper over Kawhi Leonard late in the third quarter Tuesday, the Mavericks officially served notice.
The confidence edge, the aggressive edge, even the edginess edge has been transferred in this series from Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers to Luka and the Mavericks.
Playing with unbridled confidence, the Mavericks used shots like Dončić’s fadeaway to build a 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter, then fend off a late LA rally for a 127-121 victory and a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series.
The Mavericks came into their series figuring the would have to win twice in LA if they wanted to reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
How quickly they did so has completely flipped the plotline.
Now it’s the Clippers who will have to win twice in Dallas, where the series shifts for Game 3 on Friday. Three of the next four games (if necessary) will be at American Airlines Center.
If the Mavericks can protect their home floor, they wouldn’t need to return to Staples Center – unless it’s to play the Lakers in a future round of the playoffs.
“Our guys are hungry to compete, hungry to play for each other,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve done that well for the first two games. And the challenge is always when you win a game or two games in a series, how do you measure up against the human nature curve, when a lot of teams will have letdowns. One of our real challenges will be to keep up this level of intensity and level of fight.”
So far, that’s been no problem.
And the Mavericks answered every challenge the Clippers presented on Tuesday.
Dončić had another masterful playoff performance on a night when he and Leonard exchanged dominant moments.
With Dirk Nowitzki watching from the stands just behind the Mavericks’ bench, Dončić had 39 points to go with seven assists and seven rebounds.
It was Dončić and Kristaps Porzingis who took the challenge defensively in the second half against the Clippers, who had run up 73 points in the first half.
They scored just 19 in the third quarter, when the Mavericks outscored them by 11 to take charge.
And Carlisle was quick to point out that the feelgood vibes included the presence of Nowitzki.
“I saw him and (wife) Jessica in the hotel yesterday,” Carlisle said. “It gives you a profound lift when you’re in between the first two games of the playoffs and you see that playoff warrior who we’ve been through so many battles with. And he said he was going to be coming to the game, which was great news.
“And I certainly believe that him being there tonight was a lucky charm for us. It never hurts.”
As Tim Hardaway Jr. said: “We’re 2-0 when Dirk is in the building.”
The Mavericks won their only regular season game when Dirk was at American Airlines Center in game earlier this month.
Hardaway was a huge piece of the Mavericks’ win on Tuesday with 28 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:03 left that made it 123-116.
Porzingis had 20 points, but also added two blocked shots and three steals as the Mavericks defense totally changed after their porous first half.
Carlisle said Kawhi Leonard, who had 41 points but only 11 after halftime, was doing “anything he wanted” in the first 24 minutes.
“The coaching staff challenged the team to make a stand defensively,” Carlisle said. “If we’re going to have a chance to win this game, we’ve got to stand in there and make these guys come through us.
“In the third quarter, our two best players, Luka and KP, really stepped up their defense and it set a completely different tone in the second half. To be able to hold them to 19 in the third quarter, that set us up for an opportunity to win the game. When those two guys play that way at the defensive end, it brings our defense to another level.”
The Mavericks continued to shoot the ball beautifully, just as they had in Game 1. They made more than half of their 3-point shots (18-of-34). It was the second-most 3-pointers the franchise has made in a playoff game.
All in all, it was a remarkable few days in LA as the Mavericks took a 2-0 lead – and they know what that means.
A team that wins the first two games in a best-of-seven series goes on to win the series 93.4 percent of the time (297-21).
“Just being able to get two on the road, it’s great,” Hardaway said. “But we know we still got more work to be done.
“We’ve been doing a great job of winning on the road all year. Once you’re out there competing and you got the fans there, you’re playing for something. But there’s a lot of work left to do.”
That will commence on Friday at AAC.
But for a day, basking in a 2-0 lead in the first round is something the Mavericks should enjoy. It’s been a long time coming.
The last time they were up 2-0 in a series was 2011 against the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the championship run. That series ended in a sweep.
Share and comment