The Clippers showcased their unique defensive potential against Dallas
Tuesday's clash between the Mavericks and Clippers was a classic case of an unstoppable object meeting an immovable force.
Round one went to the immovable force. LA bottled up Dallas' "head of the snake" Luka Doncic and held the Mavericks below 100 points for the first time all season in a 114-99 win. The Clippers moved to 13-5 and picked up their second road win of the year.
Dallas had an offensive rating of 118.3 entering the game, but was limited to 93.4 points per 100 possessions in the loss. Doncic finished with 22 points on 4-of-14 shooting and turned the ball over 7 times. The Mavericks collectively had 20 turnovers and shot 38% from the field; they were only within striking distance because the Clippers sent them to the line 35 times.
Setting aside the free throws, the Clippers had a wonderful defensive performance, starting with Ivica Zubac's rim protection. LA threw a variety of defensive looks at Doncic, but he was still able to find his way into the paint. Fortunately, Zubac was waiting for him each time. The Mavericks only attempted 20 shots at the basket, below their season average of 26, and they only made 55% of those looks, compared to their season average of 68%.
With Doncic dominating so much of the ball, LA was able to get away with using Moe Harkless to guard Kristaps Porzingis. Although Harkless predictably could do little to challenge Porzingis' jumper, he did provide resistance to Porzingis at the rim. That, combined with the Clippers' active hands on the perimeter, ensured that Porzingis was never quite comfortable with the ball in his hands.
The Clippers continue to let their defense prop up their offense. The team hasn't had a full practice since Kawhi Leonard and Paul George returned to the court together, forcing them to play a lot of isolation basketball in the starting lineup. Both players are talented enough to score individually, and the Lou Williams/Montrezl Harrell pick-and-roll takes care of the rest, but the Clippers' offensive ceiling is much higher than what the team has shown over the past week.
George got it going early to help LA withstand Dallas' initial push. He scored 17 points in the first quarter on four 3-pointers and one emphatic slam that was reminiscent of George's younger days, back when he participated in the dunk contest.
Leonard had 2 points in the first quarter but finished with 28 as he relentlessly abused the wing defenders the Mavericks put on him. Dorian Finney-Smith was simply too small to prevent Leonard's bully ball in the post, and he was the best option Dallas had.
The Clippers' opponent tonight, the Memphis Grizzlies, has more quality wing-sized defenders to attempt to contain the reigning Finals MVP. However, Leonard is likely to sit on the second night of the back-to-back, giving Paul George a larger share of the offensive load.
The last time Leonard missed a game, Terance Mann started in his place, and would figure to do so again to keep the bench unit intact. He is also a long, agile defender to use on Ja Morant.
Morant presents an interesting challenge since allowing dribble penetration has been one of the few weaknesses of the LA defense. However, beyond Morant, the Grizzlies have limited offensive threats, and the only factor truly working against the Clippers is the quick turnaround. Fortunately, the blowout against Dallas afforded the team some extra rest. Expect another stifling defensive effort against a bottom-five Memphis offense.