After suffering a disappointing defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night, the LA Clippers recovered with an all-around effort in a 109-99 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
The Clippers were in control for almost the entire contest, leading for more than 46 minutes of a possible 48. That doesn't mean it wasn't ever close, though.
LA led by as many as 14 points in the first quarter and 12 early in the fourth, but Dallas refused to go down without a fight. Luka Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr. came up big for the Mavericks in the final frame, combining for 15 of the team's 21 points and cutting the Clippers' lead down to just four with a few minutes to play.
However, it was the clutch play of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George that helped the Clippers put the Mavericks away for good.
With roughly two minutes to play, George made his way down the court and into the paint for a layup. Leonard was there to collect a monster rebound over Hardaway Jr. when the shot came off the rim, and he finished through contact on his way back up. His free throw extended LA's lead to seven, but the Clippers would need one more bucket to really put the Mavs away.
That shot came a few possessions later, when George pulled-up from beyond the arc and splashed a dagger three-pointer right over Doncic.
With a little momentum on their side, the Clippers should feel good about their chances when they take on the Mavericks again Wednesday night. For now, though, let's take a closer look at a few other things that stuck out last night.
Marcus Morris Sr. is the Newest Member of the Starting Five
Nicolas Batum has gotten off to a fantastic start with the LA Clippers, reviving his career as a do-it-all forward with a sweet three-point stroke. Last night, he proved he was able to do something else: Come off the bench.
Marcus Morris Sr., who elected to play behind Batum at the beginning of the season, was officially moved into the starting lineup in his place last night. At first, it seemed like the decision was made based on Morris' play against the Mavericks in the 2020 playoffs, but coach Ty Lue confirmed after the game that the move should be considered permanent.
"Been thinking about it for a while," Lue said. "Just waiting for the right time, and I did it tonight. I really wanted to do it after a couple wins because I didn't want to make it seem like it was Nic's fault if we lost because Nic has been great and phenomenal all year. But just last night, just thinking about it, talking to my coaching staff, it was time to get Marcus jumpstarted."
Both Morris and Batum excelled in their new roles against Dallas. Morris, who collected 14 points, six rebounds, four assists and a steal, brought a little extra edge and physicality to the group. Batum, who logged 12 points, seven rebounds and an assist, helped the second unit with his outside shot, activity on the glass and passing.
Time will tell if Lue's decision is the right one, but for now, he has to feel good about how Morris and Batum performed in their new roles.
Ivica Zubac Records a Clippers Career-High
Ivica Zubac was another new face in the starting rotation, making only his second start of the season in place of the injured Serge Ibaka. He, too, excelled in his new role, going for 15 points and 11 rebounds in a Clippers career-high 35 minutes of action.
"I think that might've been the most of my career," Zubac said after the game. "I'm definitely not used to playing that many minutes, but I'm in a good shape, I'm working hard every day, I'm trying to stay consistent on the off days... Felt good out there. I remember what we did in the playoffs against them last year, so that kind of worked tonight too... There's some things I could've done better, but overall we did a good job."
Zubac made his presence felt on both ends of the floor, but his work on the glass is what really stood out about his effort. He wasn't always the biggest guy on the floor (which is weird to say, considering his size), but Zubac outworked every single big the Mavs threw at him. His defense was clean as well, as Zubac picked up just one foul.
Now that Morris is a full-time starter, it's worth wondering whether Zubac should join him there. The two work well together, and Zu has more continuity with Morris than he does Batum. And while Zubac doesn't stretch the floor as Ibaka does, he makes up for it with his rim protection and physicality.
Perhaps Lue still has a few more changes to make.
Clippers Improve to 7-0 on the Second Night of Back-to-Backs
The LA Clippers struggled with back-to-back sets last season for numerous reasons. Rest was a big part of that, as Leonard and George rarely played in both games, but the Clippers have also shown to be a much more resilient squad this year than they were last.
On Monday night, their win over Dallas helped the Clippers improve to 7-0 on the year on the second night of back-to-backs — all of which have come relatively easily.
Their previous wins have come over the Portland Trail Blazers (+23), Golden State Warriors (+7), Orlando Magic (+26), Cleveland Cavaliers (+22), Miami Heat (+7) and Memphis Grizzlies (+20).
It's hard to say what this means for the team's future in the playoffs, as back-to-backs completely disappear after the regular season. However, it does speak to the team's ability to hit that "extra gear" and deliver when the time calls for it.
LA will get an opportunity to improve to 8-0 when they take on the San Antonio Spurs on March 25.