Given up for dead by many after losing two straight home games, the Dallas Mavericks rose like a phoenix and shocked the world Wednesday night at STAPLES Center.

While critics all across America spent the past three days reading the Mavs their last rites, they went on the road, took out a shovel and dug a big hole in the ground that the Clippers now must climb out of.

With Luka Dončić delivering yet another superhuman performance with 42 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists, for the third time in as many games in this best-of-seven series the Mavs did the unthinkable and defeated the Los Angeles Clippers on their own court, this time by a 105-100 count. The latest win gives the Mavs a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven series, which Dallas can close out at home on Friday at 8 p.m. and move on to play the Utah Jazz in the second round of the playoffs.

A Game 7, if necessary, will be Sunday in Los Angeles.

In NBA playoff history, when the series is tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 goes on to win the series 82.5 percent of the time (174-37). The Mavs are banking on raising that percentage.

Meanwhile, the home team has amazingly lost the first five games in this series. The only other time that’s happened is the 1995 Western Conference Finals between the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs.

For those who counted out the Mavs after they dropped two games in three days in Dallas, coach Rick Carlisle said: “We have great people. These guys have a great belief in themselves. They’ve been through a lot of upheaval this year with all the different things that most teams have gone through with Covid, with a power grid problem and eight days without games, and then injury issues. It’s just a group that has shown great resilience, really, for the last two years.

“But we haven’t done anything yet. We’ve got to continue to keep our eye on the ball, focus on process, focus on adjustments for Game 6 and try to win the first five minutes of Game 6 and go from there.”

On Wednesday, the Mavs certainly won the final 6:50 of the third quarter when they outscored the Clippers, 25-5, to carry an 89-75 lead into the fourth quarter. That blitz included a 16-0 run to close the third quarter.

But the Clippers fought back and actually had a chance take the lead. However, with the Mavs clinging to a precarious 101-100 lead, Nicolas Batum misfired from inside the paint with 9.7 seconds remaining.

Tim Hardaway Jr. (20 points, seven rebounds) grabbed the rebound, was fouled and nailed a pair of free throws for a 103-100 lead with 8.8 seconds to go. The Clippers best player, Kawhi Leonard, then air-balled a 3-pointer and Josh Richardson sealed the deal with two free throws with 4.4 seconds left.

As far as silencing the critics, Hardaway said: “The last time I checked it was the first one to (win) four (games). If you’re looking throughout the series the away team has won every single game.

“So it’s going to come down to who’s going to be the first team to win at home. And that’s what we’re shifting our focus to right now.”

In the days leading up to Game 5, the Mavs were concerned about Dončić, who has been battling a cervical strain since Game 3. But on Wednesday, he was a serious pain in the neck for the Clippers as he converted 17-of-37 shots and was 6-of-12 from 3-point territory.

And about that neck pain?

“Today I was feeling way better,” Dončić said. “It wasn’t (hurting) that much. Like I said, some massages, iced down. The most important thing was rest, and like I said, massage.”

Dončić drilled his first five 3-pointers – all in the first quarter – as he set a serious tone that had the Clippers on their heels. The third-year point guard scored 19 points in the first quarter as a series of Clippers took turns trying to slow him down – to no avail.

In all, Dončić scored or assisted on 31 of the Mavs’ 37 field goals. In other words, he tore through the Clipper defense as the Mavs – for what it’s worth – regained homecourt advantage in this series. He joins Allen Iverson and LeBron James as the only players in NBA history to score or assist on at least 80 percent of his team’s field goals in a playoff game.

“Luka Dončić is one of the toughest players I’ve ever seen, ever been around,” Carlisle said. “He’s just a warrior-type guy that happens to be one of the very best players in the world.

“He’s the engine that drives our offense. There’s no secret there. But this is a responsibility that he covets. I believe he views it as a privilege.”

The Mavs built a 98-91 lead following a Hardaway 3-pointer. Then Kristaps Porzingis drilled one of the biggest 3-pointers of his career to pad the Mavs’ cushion to 101-91 and give them some breathing room with 2:13 remaining.

“I’m just doing what the team needs me to do and I stayed ready for the moment,” said Porzingis, who finished with eight points and six rebounds. “I knocked that shot down and we won the game. I’m happy for that.”

Carlisle also was happy with a lineup change that obviously affected the final outcome. After the Clippers sat center Ivica Zubac and replaced him with Batum to start Game 4 while going to a smaller lineup, the Mavs countered by starting 7-4 Boban Marjanovic at center in Game 5 in place of 6-10 Maxi Kleber.

Marjanovic bottled things up in the middle while finishing with nine points and seven rebounds.

“I think one thing that needs to be pointed out is we really changed a lot of things, game plan-wise that really changed KP’s positioning in our attack, and he was just super patient,’ Carlisle said. “He did a terrific job defending.

“He didn’t get a lot of touches because they were hugging him the entire time when he spotted up. But that three he hit in the right corner in the fourth quarter was arguably the biggest shot of the year.”

The bigger lineup kept the Clippers on the perimeter where they were firing up three-pointers like they were going out of style. The Clippers wound up 14-of-38 from downtown, which are numbers the Mavs can live with as long as it keeps them out of the paint, where LA feasted in Games 3 and 4.

“That was a very big change for all of us,” Dončić said of the tall lineup. “We got to change our game plan, but as you see it turned out great. We’ll see what we do next time. I think everybody was great today.”

The Mavericks led most of the first half and took a 56-54 lead at the half. Then, they simply out-muscled and out-played the Clippers in winning the third quarter, 33-21, to take control of the game.

By then, Doncic already had 40 points as the pain in his neck was a distant memory.

In the meantime, the Mavs obviously packed their defense with them for the trip to the West Coast as Dorian Finney-Smith had a career-high five steals, and Dwight Powell came off the bench to contribute eight points and seven rebounds and a whole lot of activity in just 22 minutes. Also, the Mavs chipped away at the Clippers’ offense, holding them to just 41.6 percent shooting. Paul George finished with 23 points, and Reggie Jackson and Leonard each scored 20.

“It wasn’t just me, man,” said Dončić, who chiseled his way through the Clippers’ defense. “It was the whole team out there bringing the energy.”

Now, the Mavs return home, hopefully with that same energy in Game 6, as they try to win a home game in this series. As for why they dropped Games 3 and 4 at home, Porzingis said:

“Maybe a little bit of that is pressure from playing at home with our fans and wanting to show the best basketball we can. Sometimes when you try too hard it’s so much easier to kind of play on the road because you’re the enemy.

“But it’s true that also with our fans the energy that they give us is also something that is pretty special. Every game is different, and hopefully we can have a better one coming up at home.”

The other lingering question is, will Carlisle roll out that same starting lineup – with Marjanovic at center — that was so successful in Game 5?

“As we used to say in television, stay tuned,” Carlisle said. “A lot of things have changed very quickly in this series. The decision to start Boban was one that took a lot of time to analyze to see if we felt it was the right thing. We’ll look at the film closely. It’s certainly an option.

“It’s very obvious we’ve got to play better basketball at home.  We’ll get some rest tonight, get on a plane tomorrow, get our rest and get ready for Friday night.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

Share and comment

More Mavs News