Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic Admits He Must Be More 'Aggressive' vs. Clippers

Luka Doncic admits he must be more aggressive for the Dallas Mavericks in Game 2 against the LA Clippers.
 Apr 21, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) is defended by
Apr 21, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) is defended by / Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — The Dallas Mavericks were held to only 30 points in the first half of their 109-97 loss against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

It was disappointing for the Mavericks, considering Kawhi Leonard was sidelined due to right knee inflammation. With an inability to contain James Harden, Ivica Zubac, or Paul George while receiving poor production outside of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, Dallas trailed by as many as 29 points.

 Apr 21, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) is defended by
Apr 21, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) is defended by / Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Doncic finished with 33 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists, but he shot 11-26 (42.3%) from the floor and 4-12 (33.3%) from beyond the arc. He acknowledged the need to be more aggressive in attacking the rim in Game 2 after often taking tough jump shots.

"I just gotta stay aggressive. That was my bad in the first half," Doncic said. "It wasn't aggressive enough, so I just got to stay aggressive and find the open man."

The Clippers trusted Zubac to anchor their defense as the big defender in pick-and-roll, often by having play in drop. Against Zoom action handoffs that involve an off-ball screener, Los Angeles had Zubac do more switching and play up to the level. Zubac understood he had to be ready to guard in space and remained intent on protecting the paint while remaining active as a weak-side help defender when rotating off the dunker spot.

“Just doing my job. I know we are a great defensive team," Zubac said. "I got to be one of the leaders on the defensive end, and that’s something that I’ve been doing for this team for a little bit, and no matter who it is, I just have to lock into the game plan.

"They are going to make shots, Luka [Doncic] and Kyrie [Irving] are going to make tough shots, but we got to make it harder on them. That’s it," Zubac explained. "Not worried about what anyone says about a series three years ago. That was three years ago and I know what is our game plan, what we are willing to give up and trying to take away and just stick with it."

The Clippers picked up Doncic full-court at times with Terance Mann while he was aggressive as the on-ball defender in pick-and-roll. Los Angeles was focused on doubling Doncic when he posted up as well. With a focused and physical approach, there were times when the Mavericks' weren't allowed to get into basic actions, including Tim Hardaway Jr. coming up to be the back screener in Stack pick-and-roll, but was denied by the defender.

"Just giving Luka [Doncic] different looks to try and wear him down because he is a great player," Lue said. "You have to throw different looks at him. You have to play hard, compete. He’s going to make some tough shots as we saw tonight but just make it hard and make it work. Don’t let your guard down. Make him work."

The Mavericks did not produce a lower scoring first half during the regular season. The only other game where Dallas scored fewer than 40 points before halftime was on Dec. 23, 2023, when a starting backcourt of Jaden Hardy and Hardaway scored only 39 points against the Houston Rockets without Doncic or Irving available.

“We couldn’t throw it in the ocean. We missed layups, free throws, we missed wide-open shots," Mavs coach Jason Kidd said.

Irving believed that allowing the Clippers to get too comfortable in the first quarter contributed to their poor second-quarter performance. Los Angeles built on the opening quarter to produce a dominant first half overall.

“In a playoff game, man, scoring eight points feels like forever and that’s what it felt like out there," Irving said. "I think it started with how we started off the second quarter and allowed them to feel very comfortable in that first quarter and there was carry over."

The Mavericks displayed improvement after their horrendous eight-point second-quarter display by outscoring the Clippers 67-53 after the break.

"To hold a team that is as talented as that to 22 points is a positive, and that’s what we talked about at halftime," Kidd said.

Doncic credited the team's more incredible physicality on defense for driving better overall results, emphasizing the importance of sustaining a comparable level of effort for a full game instead of waiting to bring it.

“We were more physical on defense. That’s about it," Doncic said. "We came out in the second half, and in the second half, that is how we should play the whole game, so we got to learn from that.” 

While Harden revealed the Clippers knew for two days that Leonard wouldn't play Game 1, the Mavericks were unaware of that fact—requiring them to prepare for either possibility instead of locking in on one outcome.

“We prepared like he was going to play obviously. But that should not change our mentality," Doncic said. "Their mentality was next man up and they did very well, very well. We just got to stay focused 48 minutes. It’s the playoffs so we got to stay focused 48 minutes.”

Doncic and the Mavericks will have a chance to bounce back on Tuesday when they face the Clippers in Game 2 of the series.

"We just gotta play like we used to play like we played the last 20 games of the season," Doncic said. "Passing the ball, cutting, while moving. I think we did a great job last couple of games, so we just gotta play like that."

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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.