The Los Angeles Clippers got to Dallas down 0-2 in their first round series. Being in an 0-2 hole is bad for any team. But somehow, it’s worse for the Clippers. People don’t generally associate the Clippers with winners. That is despite the fact that the franchise has not had a losing record since the 2010-11 season. What most everyone remembers isn’t how the season for any basketball team goes, but rather how it ends. For the Clippers every season since they came into existence has ended with a loss. Most recently, a loss in a series when they were up 3-1. So ya, being down 0-2 is bad. It’s even worse when you realize that the two losses were in Los Angeles. It gets even worse still when the team in the 0-2 hole are the Los Angeles Clippers.
Game #3 was a must win for the LAC and they won. Game #4 wasn’t a must win, but it sure would help to ease the concerns of Clippers fans. Today, Clipper Nation can rest easy. The Clippers came to Dallas and did to the Mavericks what the Mavericks did to them in Los Angeles. After the Mavericks took a quick 4 point early lead the Clippers switched to another level. They ended the first quarter with a lead and never gave it up again. In fact, the Clippers won every quarter. Luka Doncic, who was clearly not 100%, did what he could but even at full strength it would have been difficult for the Mavericks. The Clippers played the way everyone expected them to play. For the first time in the postseason the NBA world got to watch the Clippers team that dominated in the regular season.
The question for the Clippers now is, can they keep it up?
Star of the Game
Kawhi Leonard is one of the oddest NBA superstars the Association has ever seen. While he has one of the coolest nicknames, Klaw, he is not flashy. While he does occasionally get elevation and deliver an impressive dunk on someone, he isn’t known as a high flyer. Few see him as a long range sniper, but he shot 40% from 3 this season and is shooting 48% in the playoffs. His name doesn’t come up when basketball fans talk about clutch shooters, but he hit the biggest shot in Toronto Raptors history, and arguably one of the biggest shots in NBA history, in 2019-20. Leonard is a winner. His teams tend to win. He isn’t great at any one thing, he is just exceptional at many. For the Clippers last night he scored 29 points on 11-15 shooting.
Kawhi is a quiet superstar in more ways than one. But, as the old adage goes, his game in general, and last night, speaks for itself.
Any Clippers fan will tell you that they are never relaxed. Up 10 with 5 minutes to go? Clippers fans are hyperventilating and hoping for the best. This franchise has lost games in unimaginable ways. Clippers fans have dealt with with every type of loss and they are never, ever relaxed. So yes, while things look good for the Clippers, there are concerns. Luka Doncic was spectacular in games 1 and 2 and the Mavericks dominated. He remained pretty awesome in games 3 and 4, but we know he was hurting. Will a healthy, or healthier Doncic be the difference maker in game #5? Will the Clippers take a big lead and then squander it? In general, for the Clippers, there are plenty of options when it comes to concerns. Practically, the only real concern is which Mavericks team will show up? The Mavericks may have the better overall player, but the Clippers are the better overall team.
In games #1 and #2 the Mavericks shot 50% from 3. Games #3 and #4 saw the Mavericks shot 34%. In the 2020-21 season the Mavericks 3-point percentage was 36%. In other words, the Mavericks shot better than they normally do in the games they won. Sometimes it’s not rocket science. I mean, lets be honest, it’s never rocket science. Now, did the Mavs shoot that well because they got hot, or because the Clippers defense allowed it. The answer to both questions is yes. In games #5, #6 and #7 if needed, the Clippers biggest concern is their defense. If the Mavericks shoot like they have all season, then the Clippers stand a good chance. If they shoot like they did in the first two games, the Clippers chances weaken. The only way to impact that chance, is to defend. The Clippers have played elite defense at times this season. In they want to play in the second round of these playoffs it will be elite defense that gets them there.
At the start of the season the Clippers started Nicolas Batum. It was out of necessity since their preferred starter, Marcus Morris Sr. was bot available due to injury. When Morris was ready, he opted to come off the bench because Batum was playing so well with the starters. As the season progressed Morris found his way into the starting lineup. In game #4, in search of a spark, Coach Ty Lue inserted Batum back in the starting lineup. Batum didn’t provide a spark, he was a full on fireworks display! He finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks. It’s not exactly right to say those numbers are a surprise. At least not in the sense of those numbers being shocking; the Clippers know what Batum brings. They were however a pleasant surprise like finding a $20 bill in your jacket. For the Clippers to advance they are going to need more fireworks and $20 bills coming from Batum!
Game #5 vs Dallas Mavericks, Wednesday, June 2nd at 7pm Pacific
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Jose never liked to write when he had to. Now that he gets to, he loves it! Former Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, covered the 2010 NBA Finals for the LA Times.