DALLAS - Using a 127-121 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 2, the Dallas Mavericks now hold a 2-0 series lead. Now, the series heads to the American Airlines Center where a potential victory in Game 3 could put the series too far out of reach.
Neither team was able to get much for stops in the first half. Both teams exceeded at least 33 points in each of the opening two periods with the Clippers hanging 40 on the Mavericks in the second. Los Angeles led 73-71 at halftime.
"In the first half, he was doing anything he wanted. We had some loose offensive possessions and they were just running it down our throats and driving it through us," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "The coaching staff challenged the team to make a stand defensively."
The Mavericks experienced significantly greater results defensively after the half. In fact, the Clippers were held to 19 points and that proved to be the difference as Dallas added 30 to their total. The Mavs held a 101-92 lead entering the final frame and held on the rest of the way.
Luka Doncic continued to lead the way as he recorded a staggering 39 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists, but he was far from alone. Tim Hardaway Jr. poured in another strong outing with 28 points and Kristaps Porzingis chipped in 20 of his own.
No team has been more efficient offensively than the Mavericks in the early stage of the NBA playoffs. If Dallas can continue to push forward, they could very well be facing a 3-0 series lead with the chance to close it out on their home floor.
Here are some key observations from the Mavericks' performance in Game 2:
Tim Hardaway Jr. Is Getting It Done
After dropping 21 points in Game 1, Tim Hardaway Jr. followed it up by having a 28-point outing and leading the Mavs in scoring. He's been blistering hot from beyond the arc in both games and used that to become more of a facilitator in Game 2 with 5 assists.
Having Hardaway Jr. space the floor from one pass away has given Doncic a tremendous relief option to quickly turn to throughout possessions. Making the Clippers pay over and over for sending significant ball pressure has gone a long way in taking the 2-0 series lead.
It's far from just catch-and-shoot takes, too, Hardaway Jr. has been making very helpful plays within the flow of the Mavericks' offense. In Game 2, Dallas utilized more handoff sequences and he was able to get a bucket on three of these plays.
Hardaway Jr. has commanded greater defensive attention from the Clippers after posting such hot shooting execution. He was able to create a few dunks for Porzingis and remained unselfish making the right plays within the flow.
If Hardaway Jr. continues to give the Clippers reason to fear him as much as he has through Game 2, the Mavericks will remain borderline unstoppable offensively. There's just only so much strategically that even can be done when coupled with Luka Doncic.
Clippers Can't Pick A Poison In P&R
The start of a successful offense is to have a star player that commands enough defensive attention that open shots for teammates can be routinely created.
A great offense will make teams pay for sending heavy defensive pressure to their primary playmaking threats. Right now, the Clippers are doing that to such an extent against Luka Doncic that Tim Hardaway Jr. is making them regret
The simplest of methods the Clippers have adopted defensively include using single coverage in pick-and-roll or switching the screen. Only once in Game 2 was Doncic trapped and only faced five plays when both defenders in the sequence committed to the ball.
A key factor in the Clippers using single-coverage against ball screens is the result of the Mavericks' tactic to use catch-and-shoot threats often as the ball screener. Whether it's a stretch-big or a ghost screener, Dallas is making it quite challenging on Los Angeles.
Perhaps most intriguing of all has been the inclusion of Tim Hardaway Jr. as a ghost screener. The defense has feared his shooting prowess, in particular, making for some tough choices in the heat of the moment as plays develop when he comes to screen for Doncic.
The Mavericks have the benefit of Doncic being able to create a quality look after picking up his dribble in short-range after he gets downhill. If he's left one-on-one, he can get to a turnaround, a one-legged jumper, or a floater. When those are all options in addition to a stepback three-pointer or finish at the rim, the defense is at his mercy.
Those additional layers in Doncic's scoring arsenal have become particularly helpful when he receives a ball screen from a non-shooting big like Willie Cauley-Stein.
The Clippers' defense has essentially approached its strategy in a way that understands blitzing and trapping isn't to work. In addition, not staying attached to complementary shooters isn't an option either. But is letting Doncic go one-on-one a better one? No, but they have no choice, or else the Mavericks make them pay.
Kristaps Porzingis Remains An X-Factor
After an underwhelming performance in Game 1, Kristaps Porzingis bounced back with 20 points in this one. He was able to play off of the Mavericks' top offensive talents as an ideal complement on cuts and with his shooting ability.
When perimeter shots are falling for Porzingis, the ceiling of the Mavericks' offense rapidly rises. He was able to knock a catch-and-shoot jumper down all the way from Palmdale as a trailer and added a few impressive makes as a floor spacer, in addition.
If the Clippers will become more aggressive in keying in on Tim Hardaway Jr., it will be Porzingis that becomes all the more valuable to give the defense different looks. One way, in particular, will be by using his jump shot in the paint against smaller defenders.
The Clippers are leveraging so much defensive pressure to Luka Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr. that Porzingis is able to fill a more comfortable role as a third option. When the jumpers are falling, at least, there's nothing a defense can do.
Attacking Ivica Zubac
Throughout the flow of half-court possessions, the Clippers have adopted the strategy of 'soft switching' against screens. No matter the degree of difficulty to fight through the screen, Los Angeles is going to switch against it.
By doing so, the Clippers have often been forced to rely on Ivica Zubac guarding the Mavericks' top shot creators out on the perimeter. He isn't allowing easy blow-by opportunities to get to the rim, but Dallas has been able to get into a real rhythm on these looks.
Another method the Mavericks have adopted has been the use of stretch-bigs like Maxi Kleber and Kristaps Porzingis as ball screeners. Zubac is exploited when he makes a poor closeout or when he just outright decides not to make one.
The predicament the Clippers face is that taking Zubac off the floor would open the flood gates for the Mavericks to get to the rim. However, leaving him on the floor is a favorable matchup that Dallas can routinely take advantage of throughout games.
Applying Ball Pressure Isn't Working
The results simply haven't been favorable for the Clippers when they've attempted to blitz Luka Doncic. The strategies the Mavericks have adopted coupled with the shooting execution of Tim Hardaway Jr. have made it exceptionally challenging for Los Angeles to combat.
In Game 2, the Clippers waited until late clock situations to bring out blitzes against Doncic. Whether it was toward the end of the first half of regulation altogether, that's when Los Angeles deployed it...but it didn't work.
With the game winding down, the Clippers started a possession with Kawhi Leonard guarding Doncic but used a soft switch. This enabled Doncic to use his size to create a drive and finish against Patrick Beverley as the on-ball defender. Los Angeles opted to start sending blitzes instead of going single-coverage.
On the next possession, Hardaway Jr. was able to set up a cut and dunk for Porzingis by taking advantage of having numbers. Maxi Kleber was setting a flare screen for Finney-Smith in the corner and Hardaway Jr. looked off Leonard to free up Porzingis on the cut.
Lastly, the Mavericks had Finney-Smith flash cut to the top of the key to serve as a relief option for Doncic against the blitz. The Clippers reacted to the pass in a way that left Hardaway Jr. wide open for a quick pass out, resulting in the made catch-and-shoot jumper.
The Mavericks are hitting their stride with Luka Doncic orchestrating the half-court offense with legitimate shooting threats surrounding him. Personnel like Maxi Kleber and Kristaps Porzingis in the frontcourt with Dorian Finney-Smith and, of course, Tim Hardaway Jr., have gone a long way.