All the analysts can agree on one thing — that the Los Angeles Clippers have the best bench in the NBA.
But that wasn’t the case Wednesday night.
With Trey Burke and Seth Curry controlling things from the perimeter, and Boban Marjanovic making history on the inside, the Mavs’ reserves flexed their muscles in a very resourceful way while helping Dallas upend the Clippers, 127-114, in Game 2 of this best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
The series is now tied at 1-1, with Game 3 set for Friday at 8 p.m. And if fans were allowed to attend, they probably would be truly surprised at how the underrated Mavs’ bench was able to dominate the powerful Clipper backups.
That dominance by the Mavs’ bench was clear when superstar point guard Luka Doncic went to the bench nursing five fouls early in the fourth quarter with the Mavs up, 98-88. But instead of the Mavs wilting without Doncic, they started thriving behind Burke and Curry as the Dallas lead grew to 18 points.
“We know (Doncic is) our go-to guy, but things happen,” said Burke, who tallied 16 points in only 18 minutes. “So we knew we had to stay together, we knew we had to continue to huddle up on all dead balls.
“That’s a tough team over there with more experience than what we have. But we feel like we match up great with them, we feel like we have the pieces to win this series, so tonight was a big night for us.”
Certainly, this was a big night for Marjanovic. The 7-4 backup center finished the game with an efficient 13 points and nine rebounds in only 10 minutes.
That’s the most playoff points and rebounds by anyone in NBA history who played 10 minutes or less.
“Everybody played this like a team sport,” said Marjanovic, who was 6-of-8 from the field. “It’s not about one player. It’s about the whole team. Everybody did a great job.”
Overall, the Mavs’ bench outscored their Clipper counterparts (47-37), outrebounded the Clipper reserves (18-11), and produced three more steals. Also, the Mavs’ cavalry was 19-of-31 from the field, while the Clipper reserves were 13-of-24 from the floor.
“I think we just stuck to the script,” said Burke, who was 7-of-11 from the field. “We knew what we had to do on both ends of the court coming into the game.
“Everybody came in with a level of focus and a level of being locked in that we needed from everybody – one through 15. We’re going to need that. We know it’s going to be a tough series, we know that it’s only one game, but it’s something we can build off of.”
This has to be all surreal for Burke, who was unemployed when the Mavs signed him as a substitute player on July 1 after Willie Cauley-Stein declined to enter the bubble due to the birth of his daughter. Now, on one of the NBA’s biggest stages, Burke – he played 25 games for the Mavs last season — finds himself playing prominent minutes for a team in the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
“Coach (Rick) Carlisle and my teammates that I was here with last year, they just told me to be myself when I got here,” Burke said. “Not to try to be anybody else out there but Trey Burke, and that’s a playmaker.
“On offense, being able to break down the defense and score at will. Or if something is not there, give somebody else a great shot.”
For his part, Curry definite hit some big buckets, as his 15 points on 6-of-9 shots helped stave off the Clippers, who never led in this game.
“A lot of guys stepped up,” said Kristaps Porzingis, who finished with 23 points and seven boards. “Boban played great, Trey was really good today, Tim (Hardaway Jr.) and a lot of guys stepped up and gave us a lot of energy.
“Whenever Luka wasn’t on the court there were a lot of guys that could step up and give us something.”
One thing Burke wanted to make clear: His defense is something he’s proud of, and he put that on full display in Game 2 with the two steals.
“It’s been a label that’s been on me in this league that I’m trying to erase,” Burke said. “I feel like I’m a really good defender, I feel Like I can pick up 94 feet, I can be a pest on the defensive end and I can make an impact on that end of the court. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do every time I can out there.”
While the bench did its part, Burke pointed to the starters setting the tone by jumping out to a 15-2 lead. That’s precisely what the Clippers did when they busted out to an 18-2 lead en route to winning Game 1, 118-110.
“Every possession matters in the playoffs, every small detail matters,” Burke said. “We know that it’s a game of runs and we have a powerful offense, but that’s a powerful team over there as well. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot at the beginning of games and allow them to get going.”
And Burke knows the Mavs can’t get too high just because they knotted the series at a game apiece. He knows they must remain even keel.
However, if the Mavs’ bench can duplicate in Game 3 what they did in Game 2, they really could get into the heads of the Clippers.
“Obviously everyone is on a high right now, but after Game 1 everyone was on a real low, and I think that’s how you stay balanced in this league – knowing that you can be humbled real quick and knowing that things can change for the good real quick,” Burke said. “If you keep that mentality I think you’ll start moving in the right direction.
“We know that they’re going to come out with a lot of intensity. They’re going to come out and try to throw the first blow, so we still have to be ready for everything they throw our way.”