In previewing the Dallas Mavs vs. Los Angeles Clippers first-round NBA Playoffs series, our Grant Afseth wrote:
"It's bound to happen: The Clippers will blitz Luka Doncic and make him give the ball up and it will be up to his teammates to make a play. Top options like Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Jalen Brunson, and also Dorian Finney-Smith will need to be ready.''
In Dallas' 113-103 Game 1 win at L.A. on Saturday?
The "blitz'' didn't work. The helpers were ready.
FISH COLUMN: 'Head Of The Snake' Luka Wins Game 1
Doncic, the 22-year-old superstar, was in charge of the win, going for a triple-double of 31 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds to lead the Mavericks to a steal on the road. But 30 of those points came in the first three quarters.
The Mavs won in the clutch - in the fourth quarter - with Luka scoring but one point?
Yes, because Hardaway, Brunson and Finney-Smith combined in the game for 54.
"We won the game, that's the most important thing, if I have zero or 15 points in the fourth quarter," Doncic said.
Doncic is now the only player in NBA history to record three triple-doubles in his first seven playoffs outings. If Dallas somehow wins this series against Kawhi Leonard and the favored Clips, he'll be the reason.
As Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said: "This is (Luka's) time of year, and he's one of the smartest basketball players you will ever meet at any age, at any level."
But big time 3-point shooting from wings Hardaway Jr. and Finney-Smith was critical, too.
Hardaway scored 21 points while shooting 5-for-9 from 3-point range. Finney-Smith added 18 points while shooting 4-for-5 from long distance.
This ... was surely not something the Clippers' defensive game plan fully factored in.
Yes, Hardaway shot 39.1 percent from the arc this year and has a reputation for success there. And yes, Finney-Smith at 39.4 percent this year has made himself into a threat.
But the two wings combining to hit 9-for-14 (64.3 percent) from 3-point range in Game 1 on the road while dealing with the likes of Kawhi and Paul George on both ends? No, L.A. couldn't account for that. And with Brunson coming off the bench to allow that trio combine for 54 points?
Well, maybe with the Clippers so understandably concerned about Luka, there are going to be leaks in their vaunted defense.
Finney-Smith, who before the start of the series boldly responded to the notion that the Clippers wanted to play Dallas by insisting the feeling was mutual, added more boldness after Game 1 by saying of Ivica Zubac guarding him: "I think either me or Maxi (Kleber) is going to be happy when he's guarding because we're going to get shots."
But it's not just about getting shots, no matter the defender. It's about making them.
Also in our preview, Afseth wrote:
"The Mavericks were able to wreak havoc in last year's series when the Clippers outright trapped Doncic. That's partly why they only did so on 13 possessions because the results just weren't there. Dallas scored a made field goal on eight of those plays. ...''
In other words, while the world knows that last year's Round 1 was captured by the Clippers despite Luka's incredible numbers, the Clippers themselves know that over-focusing on Doncic alone can mean his helpers might make them pay.
It happened a little bit a year ago. It happened a lot on Saturday. The "helpers'' helped. And the Clippers were rendered helpless.