Clippers Trust 'Blueprint' to Stop Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks in Playoff Series

The Los Angeles Clippers are confident in their "blueprint" to neutralize Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in their first-round playoff series.
Apr 23, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) shoots the ball
Apr 23, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) shoots the ball / Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
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DALLAS — The Los Angeles Clippers were defeated 96-93 in Game 2 by the Dallas Mavericks after re-integrating Kawhi Leonard into the fold after he was sidelined for over three weeks due to right knee inflammation. Despite losing the previous game, the Clippers remain confident in their "blueprint" to handle a Mavericks attack led by Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

“It doesn’t matter,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “Every game, every series, every year is different. We’ve got to come in and take it. We have the blueprint, so now we’ve just got to follow it.”

With Leonard being inserted back into the fold, the Clippers have to find a clean approach using four Hall of Fame talents who are accustomed to being focal points of the offense. With Leonard often receiving stagnant catches for mid-post isolation touches and having to play through contact, there weren't many simple chances for him to make plays within the flow of Game 2.

“I thought we maybe got a little too stagnate, trying to attack him,” Lue said. “He did a good job. He sat down. He took the challenge and he really defended. Kyrie did the same thing.

“It changes their team a lot. Kyrie’s picking up full-court. Luka’s taking the one-on-one challenge. . . When your best players step up and do that, it means a lot. It sets a tone for your team.”

The Clippers understand there has to be more flow in their offense for Leonard to regain his typical form. The Mavericks emphasized sending an early low man to pack the paint and were on a string defensively in the half court.

"Not necessarily shots. I think more so timing. Timing of when he's getting there, how he's getting there. I think understanding the rhythm of the offense and getting that flow back. I don't think it necessarily means more shots. I just think it means like, the time and when he's getting to his spots, how he's getting to his spots and things like that."

The Clippers have clearly emphasized deploying drop coverage against 1-5 pick-and-rolls and switching Zoom action handoffs and double screener actions to neutralize play-finishing sequences for Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II, who tend to be highly efficient lob finishers for Luka Doncic. Doncic has had to use more short/mid-range step-backs and pull-ups with the paint overloaded, in addition to his heavy dose of step-back 3-pointers, resulting in a more challenging overall shot profile while floor spacing threats are accounted for. He's averaged 32.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 7.5 assists, shooting 42.3% from the floor, 34.6% from beyond the arc, and 85.7% on free throws through two playoff games.

“Their game plan is to make Luka score, I don’t know if we can get them back,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “We’ve got to take what they give us. And right now that’s what they’re giving us, to see if Luka’s gonna take those shots and be able to make them.”

As Clippers sixth-man Norman Powell detailed, the team is focused on deploying the low defender early to account for the paint and prompt Doncic or Kyrie Irving to reverse to the weak side of the floor.

“There’s a concerted effort of taking away the roller, with the weakside defense being really pulled in and communicating our rotations,” Powell said. “It’s being really locked in. We know they like to do that out of the pick and roll, Luka and Kyrie. We’re making them skip the ball to the other side of the floor, taking away the looks inside the paint.”

It's been a struggle for the Mavericks to execute with a traditional center on the court so far in the series, mostly with Daniel Gafford. They've even had a negative net rating with Dereck Lively II. Maxi Kleber has produced positive results as a small ball five option. The Clippers expect to see this look from Dallas more, especially if Gafford, who is questionable for Game 3 with back spasms, proves unable to play.

"I think they will go to that lineup. They had some success with it at the end of Game 1," Lue said. "They had some in Game 2 as well. I think they will go to that."

The Clippers are unconcerned by the Mavericks' option of deploying Kleber at the five, considering they still scored under 100 points in their Game 2 victory. Los Angeles is confident that improved offensive results following an abnormally poor performance—shooting 36.8% from the floor and 26.7% from the perimeter—will lead to a winning result.

"I don't know how much it really worked, they only scored 96 points, 97 points, so it don't really matter," Lue said. "Like, we have to score the basketball, we have to play better offensively, we have to make quicker decisions, better decisions, and go from there, but, I mean, they will play Kleber a little bit more at the bottom, so we'll be ready."

As the Mavericks prepare to protect their home advantage at American Airlines Center in the upcoming two games of the series, Kidd stressed the significance of maintaining a fast pace, reducing turnovers, and capitalizing on open shots, while also focusing on strong defensive play.

"We have to be hungry, we have to protect home, just understanding you can be beaten at home," Kidd said. "Again, playing with pace, and we have to take care of the ball, and we have to understand how important it is to make open shots against them. And then defensively, we have to just try to make it as tough as possible."


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Grant Afseth

GRANT AFSETH

Grant Afseth is a Dallas Mavericks reporter for MavericksGameday.com and an NBA reporter for NBA Analysis Network. He previously covered the Indiana Pacers and NBA for CNHI's Kokomo Tribune and various NBA teams for USA TODAY Sports Media Group. Follow him on Twitter (@grantafseth), Facebook (@grantgafseth), and YouTube (@grantafseth). You can reach Grant at grantafseth35@gmail.com.