Luka Doncic didn’t want to talk about the monstrous numbers he put up in Game One of the Mavericks’ first-round series against the Clippers, and with reason. Even as his stat line of 42, seven, and nine was a first in National Basketball Association history, he labeled his effort “terrible” if for no other reason than it likewise included a whopping 11 turnovers. Considering that the total was seven more than his season average, and that the blue and white lost by eight points after leading by as much as 14, the lost possessions may well have told the outcome.
To be sure, the ejection of second-leading scorer Kristaps Porzingis proved critical as well. The Mavericks were up by five early in the third quarter — and, significantly, appeared ready to take the measure of the heavily favored Clippers — before a second technical foul sent Doncic’s principal escape valve to the showers. It’s no coincidence that the latter turned the ball over three times the rest of the way; his increased usage rate, and the extended coverage given him following the loss of a vital cog, told on his effectiveness as a playmaker.
That said, the Mavericks headed into yesterday’s set-to confident of their chances to prevail. Even after an atrocious Game One start that had them down 18-2 early on, even after missing Porzingis for practically the entire second half, and even after seeing the Clippers’ one-two punch of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George play extremely well, they came close to prevailing. Conventional wisdom might have consigned them as underdogs, but they believed they had more than enough to take the measure of the title favorites. With 21-year-old Doncic spearheading the charge, and with the competition’s supposed homecourt advantage nullified by circumstances in the bubble, they deemed themselves ready for prime time.
As things turned out, the Mavericks were right. Proving that they learned from their Game One missteps, they hit the ground running yesterday. They built a double-digit lead with nary a third of the opening canto going by, wound up winning every quarter but the last (which, by the way, was a standstill), and ultimately walked off the court with a convincing 13-point triumph. Sure, the Clippers missed the services of defensive whiz due to a calf injury; based on historical data, he would have been good for 20 minutes of leech-like guarding and all-around pestering. On the other hand, there should still have been more than enough talent for the second seeds to adjust to the development.
Indeed, the result was more what the Mavericks did right than what the Clippers did wrong. More than anything else, the victors made better use of their possessions; they finished with just nine turnovers all told, with Doncic committing a single one way back in the first quarter. And in sharing the ball well, they managed to sink half their 88 shots from the field and close to 45% of their 29 tries from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, they smothered the opposition to 44% and 39% clips, respectively, with George hitting only four of 17 attempts. Apparently, they can also play solid defense.
Make no mistake. The Clippers can, and will, be better; Beverley will be back, and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Montrezl Harrell figures to post numbers closer to his season norms as he works himself back to shape. On the flipside, so, too, can the Mavericks. They know they possess the opportunity to disrupt proceedings the way the Magic and Blazers have, but more consistently. Yes, Doncic is that good. Yes, Porzingis is that important. And, yes, head coach Rick Carlisle is that prepared. At the very least, they’re keen on showing the series won’t be the cakewalk dismissive quarters have foreseen.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.