What Kawhi Leonard and Paul George did to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night was somewhat expected. What wasn’t expected was what Ivica Zubac did to the Mavs.
Leonard collected 29 points, six rebounds and five assists, and George added 24 points, seven boards and six assists. But it was a career night from Zubac that was at the forefront of the Clippers’ 126-111 triumph over the Mavs at HP Field House in Orlando.
The fourth-year center scored a season-high 21 points to go along with a season-high tying 15 rebounds as the Mavs never did figure out how to contain him.
“He’s a great center,” Mavs center Maxi Kleber said. “What he has to do he does it hard. He’s rolling to the basket, he can finish with both hands, he has a good eye on where to be — nothing crazy, nothing fancy.
“But he’s playing very solid post defense in the center position. He also did a great job of defending out there.”
Zubac was 10-of-10 from the field in 24 minutes, and six of his 15 rebounds came on the offensive end of the floor. In fact, he had two less offensive rebounds than the entire Mavs’ team.
“Yeah, a little bit too many boards for us,” said Kleber, who finished with 10 points and four rebounds. “We’ve got to do a better job of boxing him out down there, but he had a really good game today.”
Mavs forward Dorian Finney-Smith also acknowledged that Dallas can’t allow players like Zubac to get into a rhythm, especially when Leonard and George are also bringing the heat.
“We’ve got to do a better job on the other guys,” said Finney-Smith, who contributed 12 points and eight rebounds. “We know what Kawhi and Paul George are going to do.
“But we’ve got to do a better job of shutting the other guys down.”
The game was tied at 101-101 following a 3-pointer by Kleber with 6:41 remaining. But Zubac put the Clippers ahead for good with a basket a short time later, and Los Angeles eventually ended the game on a 25-10 run.
“We just got distracted,” Finney-Smith said. “We missed a couple of open shots, a couple of calls didn’t go our way and we just let the game slip.
“They got some transition threes and just too many open looks for a quarter, and we’ve got to execute better down the stretch.”
Kleber pointed out that part of what led to the Mavs’ demise was some communication issues.
“We know we’ve got to switch up a lot of things because they have two very talented offensive players,” Kleber said. “They play a lot of isolations, so we try to keep bodies on bodies. We did a lot of times switching, showing and all of those different things, so there was a little bit miscommunication.
“I remember running back in transition with (Justin) Jackson and I miscommunicated with him. Stuff like that can’t happen again.”
If the season ended today, the Mavs would face the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. And Kleber realize things won’t be easy, particularly considering the Clippers are the deepest team in the entire NBA.
“We know it’s going to be physical games (and) you’ve got to play through hard stretches when you can’t make a shot,” Kleber said. “We’ve got to make sure we still get stops, because it’s going to come down to playing defense.
“They have amazing talent offensively, so you’ve got to make sure — even though you don’t make the shots — you make it tough for them and don’t give them easy ones.”
Finney-Smith said the Mavs must continue to be on top of their game mentally and physically for 48 minutes in order to beat a team the caliber of the Clippers.
“We just got to execute down the stretch,” Finney-Smith said. “We did a good job of cutting it in the third quarter, but we just got to finish the game better.”
VOTING RIGHTS ACT CELEBRATES 55TH ANNIVERSARY: Before each one of his press conferences since the Mavs have been in Orlando for nearly a month, coach Rick Carlisle has read news from a calendar signifying what happened on that particular date to African-Americans in the history of this country.
Most of the news, obviously, was not positive. But on Thursday. . .
“This is actually a positive one in a lot of ways,” Carlisle said. “On Aug. 6, 1965, more than a century after Black Americans are granted voting rights, the federal Voting Rights Act is enacted to actually enforce those rights.
“So that was a big thing enacted in 1965. And of course since then there’s been a lot of things to suppress voting, and that’s one of the big things we’re talking about here in Orlando.”
Thursday was the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. And the NBA Board of Governors celebrated the occasion by announcing that they will contribute a whopping $300 million over the next 10 years to establish a charitable foundation dedicated to economic empowerment in the Black community.
“Every kid in America should grow up with a shot at the American dream,” Clippers owner Steve Ballmer told TNT. “And that has been made very difficult based on our long history of systemic racism that has really been directed at African-Americans, and it’s just not right.
“I want to see things advance. I want the story of the NBA’s progress to be exciting and stimulating and inspiring for other people.”
DONCIC NOT CONCERNED ABOUT INDIVIDUAL STATS: In the first three games in the bubble, Luka Doncic averaged 34 points, 13.7 rebounds and 11 assists. Those are absolutely phenomenal numbers any way anybody dissects them.
Those numbers by the Mavs’ second-year point guard also conjured up comparisons to the great Oscar Robertson, who averaged a triple-double during the 1961-62 season. Robertson finished that memorable campaign with averages of 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 12.5 assist per game.
However, coach Rick Carlisle is no fan of comparing players, no matter what era they played in.
“I think Luka Doncic is really one of the unique young players really in the history of the game,” Carlisle said. “He’s very much his own man, very much his own kind of style of play, and extremely unique, and that’s something that should be celebrated.
“I don’t like putting a lot of demands on young players with comparisons, and then comparing stats. That shouldn’t be relevant. What should be relevant is the fact that he continues to work to refine his game, which he’s been doing each of these two years.”
Despite numbers that puts him among the top players in the NBA, Carlisle noted that Doncic couldn’t care less about any of his individual statistics.
“I think Luka’s No. 1 goal is to win and to be an NBA champion,” Carlisle said. “He’s talked time and time again about the fact that he doesn’t care about stats. He’s really just into winning. Let’s not make it about comparing him to other players, specifically in terms of stats and those kinds of things. I think that’s just a tough thing, and I’m not a big fan of it.”
BOUCEK HAS BEEN VALUABLE TO THE MAVS: Assistant coach Jenny Boucek is not in the bubble in Orlando with the Mavs. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t helping the team during their stay there.
“She’s very valuable to our staff,’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “She is the person that’s responsible for coordinating all of our in-game scouting stuff on opponents.
“She was unable to come to Orlando because of the size of the travel party, but I told her we had to find ways to utilize her knowledge, her knowledge of the team, her knowledge of situations. So she’s preparing video for literally every single day that we have practice – and particularly games—of things that she’s seeing in our games.”
Boucek joined Carlisle’s staff in 2018 after spending the 2017-18 season as an assistant with the Sacramento Kings. And the video she’s been piecing together for nearly the last month has been very valuable to the Mavs.
“In today’s day and age with video, she can put video on our network and we can sync through the Internet and we can get her video files on our computer,” Carlisle said. “I don’t know how that’s possible.
“It sounds like hocus pocus stuff to me. But it’s been valuable information and she’s done a great job for us both years she’s been here.”