As they woke up Tuesday from what may have been an agonizingly restless night, the Dallas Mavericks probably wondered how in the world they lost Monday’s opener of a best-of-seven series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“We felt like we should have won it,” forward Dorian Finney-Smith said of the 118-110 loss. “But we’ve got to move on to the next game.
“The first team to four (games) wins (the series). We just take what we can from that game, learn from it and try to get this next one.”
Game 2 is Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Although they remained within striking distance of the Clippers for the majority of the second half of Game 1, the Mavs saw their bubble burst less than three minutes into the second half when forward Kristaps Porzingis was charged with his second technical foul and was subsequently ejected from the game. They scored 69 points in the first half after an extremely poor start, yet scored only 41 points in the second half when they were playing with just one of their top two players.
“He’s like one of the main players on our team,” center Boban Marjanovic said of Porzingis. “He’s like the engine, the same like Luka (Doncic). If you lose one engine you try to figure out how you can work the best to try to win the game.
“It’s tough, and we had a difficult time trying sometimes to score, sometimes to defend. But it’s a playoff game, you go up and down, the pace is a little bit slow down, everything is different, and people play with more focus.”
Coach Rick Carlisle admitted his team was not as focused as he wanted them to be at the start of the game when the Mavs – in the midst of a hail of self-inflicted turnovers — fell behind 10-0 and then 18-2. Doncic committed three of his 11 turnovers in the early goings.
“Some of those turnovers were caused by poor spacing and us not being in the places we should have been,” Carlisle said. “But look, you’re playing against the Clippers, who are a good defensive team. You’ve got to use the space on the floor correctly.
“Early in the game we did not, and throughout the game I thought we got a little better as time went on. But spacing is a huge key to the success of our offense, and when it’s off and you’ve got guys — they’re great defenders with active hands — you’re going to have some problems.”
Since they successfully climbed out of that 16-point hole and eventually took a 50-36 lead in the second quarter, the biggest and most obvious problem for the Mavs came when Porzingis was ejected with 9:10 remaining in the third quarter and Dallas nursing a 71-66 lead. The Mavs had overcome haymakers from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George by having Doncic throw his own unique brand of punches.
However, when Porzingis rushed in to break up a mild dust-up between Marcus Morris and Doncic, the refs believed the fifth-year veteran escalated the situation. So they gave him his second technical foul and the automatic heave-ho.
But keeping their cool and staying focused against a Clippers team that thrives on making games chippy is what Carlisle cautioned his team about beforehand. Now, the Mavs must regroup and try to even the series at 1-1 when they know they let a huge chance at going up 1-0 in this series slip away.
“We’ve got to concentrate on our process, play our game, understand that there’s definitely an emotional aspect to playoff basketball,” Carlisle said. “There are instances when it gets physical. Sometimes players try to incite emotions.
“We’ve got to work together and stay on an even keel. You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low.”
More importantly, the Mavs can’t dwell on all of the mitigating circumstances that occurred in Game 1. That’s over and done with and filed away in the history books.
“Coming into this series we always felt like we could beat this team anyway,” Finney-Smith said. “Last night was a good game. They just made a couple more plays down the stretch.
“I think that third quarter was a good defensive quarter. We didn’t score a lot, but we’ve also got to start the game a lot better. If we can just put together a 48-minute game we can put ourselves in an even better situation.”
The Mavs will have a chance to put themselves in an even better situation on Wednesday. And with Doncic scoring 42 points in the opener and Porzingis back for Game 2 – the Mavs hope for an entire game – the Mavs like their chances of evening the series at a game apiece.
“Our guys did a great job of just settling one another, continuing to play, and they worked their way back into it and we had a (38-34) lead at the end of the first quarter,” Carlisle said. “That’s how you’ve got to play.
“We’ve all got to find energy and strength from each other, because playoff basketball is very challenging and very difficult, and teams bring their best.”