Luka Doncic confidently said the Mavericks had more than enough fight to take to the Los Angeles Clippers in this series, but now, for the second time, Dallas will have to battle from behind.
And perhaps without Doncic.
On Friday night, the Clippers limited Doncic even before he sustained a third-quarter sprained left ankle, making a big second quarter hold up en route to a 130-122 victory and a 2-1 lead in this first-round, best-of-7 playoff series.
Doncic briefly returned and played the first three minutes of the fourth quarter before again departing. He recorded the first playoff triple-double in Mavericks history, but his 13-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist night was far from vintage Doncic.
Doncic said the injury and pain “aren’t as bad” as the separate right ankle sprains that caused him to miss a combined 12 games in December and February, but admitted of his availability for Game 4 on Sunday: “I don’t know the answer to that. I have an MRI [Saturday] and then we’ll see.”
It doesn’t help that Sunday’s Game 4 is a 2:30 (Dallas time) start, which gives the ankle less healing time.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said it was clear that Doncic wasn’t moving well when he returned to start the fourth quarter, though Carlisle stressed that Doncic did not make the injury worse by returning.
“He just wasn’t able to move the way you’ve got to move in a playoff series against a top-seeded team,” Carlisle said. “Getting him out was the right thing. We’ve got to see if we can help him get significantly better by Sunday. If it’s not Sunday, then possibly Tuesday [Game 5].”
Doncic shot 4-of-14 from the field and 4-of-10 on free-throws as the Clippers played Doncic and the Mavericks with more physicality than in the first two games — although the Mavericks returned every forearm shove and bit of trash talk.
After a grinding first quarter ended with a 23-23 tie, Los Angeles broke open the game by outscoring the Mavericks 45-31 in the second period. The point total was the highest by a Mavericks playoff opponent.
Luka has a left ankle sprain and is available to return https://t.co/hZHnAfKkJR
— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) August 22, 2020
Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers with 36 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists and point guard Patrick Beverley’s injury replacement, Landry Shamet, added 18 points.
Historically, Game 3s have been proved pivotal when a best-of-seven series is tied at 1. The Game 3 winner has gone on to win 73.5% (172-62) of the time.
Then again, none of those series were played in a bubble.
History also has been unkind to No. 7 seeds, a designation the Mavericks carried into the playoffs. Since the 16-team playoff format was instituted in 1994, No. 2 seeds are 67-5 against seventh seeds.
Only one of those upsets occurred in a seven-game series. The Mavericks were on the losing end of that one, in 2010, to San Antonio in six games.
Again, though, none of those 2 vs. 7 series were played in a no-fans bubble setting. With a healthy Doncic, the Mavericks certainly are still very much in this series. In games he has missed this season, however, Dallas is 7-7.
“What do you mean? Can we still make a run?” said Mavericks guard Tim Hardaway, responding to a question. “It’s only 2-1. Last time I checked it’s the first one to four, wins. So we’ll figure out what Luka’s doing tomorrow but right now let’s go back home, watch film, and see what the doctors and our PT staff says on Luka.”
Kristaps Porzingis led the Mavericks with 36 points and Hardaway scored 22. The Mavericks trailed 110-95 when Doncic left for good with 9:02 left, yet pulled within 115-108 with 6:17 remaining. Dallas got no closer, though.
“We felt like, at least I felt like, we could still pull this off,” Porzingis said. “If we made two (or) three crazy shots anything could happen in the game. We gave ourselves a chance by fighting until the end and at the end we fell short.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers dismissed the notion that either team has momentum, saying “Every game is an individual game” and adding “Dallas outplayed us” in the first two games.
There is no question about that last statement — other than during the 21 minutes the Mavericks played without Porzingis after he was ejected in Game 1.
Through Games 1 and 2 and the first period of Game 1, the Mavericks led after six of the nine quarters and were tied after one.
Luka said he’ll be getting an MRI tomorrow and will know more about his ankle injury then.
“It’s not that bad. Honestly, I had luck that it was my left ankle. It’s not my right.” pic.twitter.com/UHPG1lzxum
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) August 22, 2020
Of those nine quarters Dallas outscored the Clippers in five, were outscored in three, tied two and outscored the Clippers overall, 260-255. Take away the Game 1 minutes when they didn’t have Porzingis and Dallas outscored L.A. 221-203.
“I think they were dangerous, pretty confident coming into it,” Rivers said of the Mavericks. “They showed that in Game 1. We jumped on them and they came right back. I don’t think there’s anybody getting more confident or less confident.”
If not shaken, the Mavericks’ confidence certainly was put on pause during Friday’s second quarter, especially during a three-possession sequence in which the Mavericks committed three turnovers, leading to six Clippers points and their first double-digit lead of the game, 52-41.
Two of those turnovers were committed by Doncic, who finished the first half shooting 3 of 10 from the field and 4 of 10 from the free-throw line.
For the first time in the series, the Clippers, at least on this night, produced a formula for slowing Doncic.
“I don’t care about Luka. I care about beating the Mavs, honestly,” Rivers said. “I’m just being honest. We don’t look at it, like, Luka, what if he had a great night and they win? You’re still going to not feel good about the game.”
On this night, Rivers got the best of both worlds.