Dallas Mavericks Stay Grounded Before Game 4 Against Clippers: 'Nothing to Celebrate'

Jason Kidd urges the Dallas Mavericks to maintain focus and not celebrate prematurely as they lead the series 2-1 against the LA Clippers.
Apr 26, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) and guard Josh Green (8)
Apr 26, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) and guard Josh Green (8) / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks, holding a 2-1 series lead against the Los Angeles Clippers, face a crucial Game 4 in their first-round playoff series. With the game set for Sunday afternoon at the American Airlines Center, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd emphasizes the importance of not getting ahead of themselves.

"This is a veteran ball club," Kidd said of the Clippers. "They've been in every situation, so there’s nothing for us to celebrate.” He stressed that the series victory isn't secured until a team wins four games, not just two.

Apr 26, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) and guard Josh Green (8)
Apr 26, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) and guard Josh Green (8) / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The importance of Game 4 cannot be overstated; historically, teams that go up 3-1 in the playoffs are 268-13 all-time. However, a loss would level the series at 2-2, giving the Clippers two potential home games to clinch. A possible Game 6 being played in Dallas it would create a greater margin for error by achieving a victory in Game 4.

“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Kidd said. “The series is still going on. We only won two games. We have a game tomorrow. It’s a quick turn playing in the afternoon."

Injury concerns are also on the table. Luka Doncic is questionable with right knee soreness but was described as "good" by Kidd after Saturday's practice. Tim Hardaway Jr. is dealing with a sprained ankle that kept him out of Game 3, and his status for Game 4 is doubtful. The Clippers are also dealing with their issues; Kawhi Leonard has not been himself, missing Game 1 and averaging only 12 points in the subsequent games, hinting at potential lingering effects.

“Everyone’s banged up, everybody is stiff or sore right now just because of the way the series is being played. But everybody is ready to go," Kidd said. "Just understanding we’ve got to be able to execute the game plan tomorrow afternoon, but the guys are going to be sore, other guys are going to have to step up. That’s just the nature of what this time of the year is all about.”

The Mavericks learned from their past experiences, particularly from the 2021 series against the Clippers where they lost after leading. The team remains wary of the Clippers' capacity to bounce back, as evidenced when they captured crucial games after trailing in previous series.

“(Game 4 is) a big game,” Mavericks wing Josh Green said. “Just (have the) mindset-wise that (the series is) zero-zero. I think for us, just coming in with the same energy and making sure that we hit first tomorrow. We know it’s going to be a competitive battle, but just make sure that we’re ready go to.”

The 101-93 victory in Game 3 highlighted the Mavericks' effective offense with 13 dunks, including eight lob dunks, showcasing their strategic play adjustments.

“(When) guards are getting downhill off the bigs’ screens, we got to make sure we get a hit off those screens and get those guys downhill depending on the defense that they’re trying to throw at us," Gafford said. "I always say, be in the right place at the right time.”

As the Mavericks outplayed the Clippers in recent games, Kidd emphasized the necessity to maintain focus.

“Understand, we’ve got to focus on what’s in front of us, and that’s Game 4,” Kidd stated. “Protecting home and continue to get better on the defensive end, and then also get better on the offensive end and just trust each other on both ends, and continue to be connected, continue to keep talking to one another and helping each other.”

The Mavericks aim to replicate their recent defensive successes into Game 4, having significantly contained the Clippers' scoring, a point of pride for Kidd and his squad.

“That’s something that we’ve taken pride in is trying to be one of the best defensive teams in the league,” Kidd said. “Against the Clippers, who have (four) future hall of famers, they’ve got weapons everywhere, so we’re just trying to make it tough."

With Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving taking the challenge defensively while rising to the occassion offensively, the Mavericks have created an intriguing formula leading to two consecutive wins in this series. Doncic has averaged 29.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 8.0 assists, while going well beyond holding his own as a target on defense. Irving has stepped up after halftime in this series, averaging 20.0 of his 25.0 points in the second half, while overall, averaging 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.3 steals.

“I think defense dictated the offense," Doncic said. "I think we didn't play great offensively, especially me, but we won the game, that’s all that matters."

After entering halftime of Game 3 with two points, Irving overcame foul trouble to score 19 points in the second half, providing timely made shots to stifle possible Clippers runs. He expressed the maturity that's gone into prioritizing the success of the team over the natural focus and concern that may arise as a player when seeing a less productive scoring start than usual.

“There were things that I struggled with as a young player especially in high intense moments where you are kind of used to having the ball in your hands, or you look up at the scoreboard which a lot of us happen to do. I know I'm not the only one,” Irving said. “Sometimes if you don't see your points total looking like normal you can psych yourself out of the game. You can end up being in a position mentally where you are not able to still impact positively. That's something in competitive sports we don't talk about often, just the external pressure that people put on themselves to live up to certain expectations when it's just one game.

“You're playing in the playoffs. If you look at the history of the game, there's not a fancy formula that all these championship teams had," Irving continued. "They just continued to battle, continued to do the little things on the defensive end first, and then allowed their offense to flourish.”

“If you look at some of the greatest players in history, some of their low moments, they didn't score much but they had a huge impact on the game,” Irving concluded. “I try to have that same approach mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Then allow my physical talents and abilities to play out in the right time in the right situation. Just being mature about it man. It's two points… It's about winning the game at the end of the day.”

The 90 points the Clippers scored in Game 3 was the fewest of any Mavericks opponent this season. Additionally, Game 2 featured the Clippers only scoring 93, ranking as the fourth fewest any team facing Dallas has produced during its campaign. With a continued emphasis on following the game plan, the Mavericks have tightened up defensively. Green emphasized the extensive film study since the final regular season and the team's constant pursuit of a goal set in their training camp of holding opponents under 100 points. The team is 2-0 this series when attaining that goal and 11-0 overall on the season.

"I think, preparation-wise, from the moment our last game finished of the season, all focus was shifted on the Clippers," Green said. "We've watched more film than I could ever imagine, but we need to, and I just, it's just one of those situations where we're here now. So it's, coaches always talk about holding opponents under 100 points. And that's been a huge emphasis since day one of training camp. And I think we've done a great job of that lately."

Green is far from the only Maverick to emphasize the value of the team's film-studying efforts in preparation for the series and throughout continued gameplay. Gafford described their ability to execute as being "almost second nature" due to this process, helping them prevent the Clippers from attacking favorable spots and making routine plays.

"Studying film and paying attention to details has been crucial, and we've been focused on transferring all of that over to the game," Gafford said. "We've implemented it into our defense, driven by a sense of urgency to put our plans into action. We've prevented the opposing team from getting the things they want, especially stopping them from getting to their spots. At the end of the day, I'm pretty sure we frustrated them because we were executing what we worked on, practiced, and walked through."

"It has almost become second nature to us because we've worked so much on it, and we successfully transferred it over to the game, which turned out well for us," Gafford explained. "We just have to stay consistent with it."

Game 3 increased physical play, with tensions boiling over, resulting in the ejections of Clippers guard Russell Westbrook and Mavericks forward P.J. Washington. Reflecting on the game's intensity, Mavericks center Dereck Lively II said,

"The officials aren’t really calling any calls and are just going to let us play," Lively said. "So it’s going to come down to whatever team comes out and throws the first punch and can take a punch and throw another back. We’re trying to be the aggressor all night."

Despite the Clippers' struggling stars, Kidd is wary of their capacity to bounce back, especially highlighting Paul George, who only managed seven points on 3-11 shooting in Game 3.

"You always think about Paul George going off, or Kawhi going, or Harden going, or Westbrook going," Kidd explained. "For us, it’s to continue to try to make it as tough as possible. When they get going, it’s hard to stop them."

As Game 4 approaches, the Mavericks are prepared to defend their home court and extend their lead in the series. With Kidd’s focus on defense, composure, and team support, the Mavericks aim to capitalize on their current momentum and take a significant step toward advancing in the playoffs.

With the series heating up, the Mavericks are set on keeping their composure and momentum, fully aware that every game, particularly Game 4, is pivotal in their quest for a series victory.

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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.