After coming away from Game 1 with a 113-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Dallas Mavericks will look to take a 2-0 series lead on Tuesday.
How did they do it Saturday? How can they do it again?
The Mavericks got off to a fast start in the opening period of Game 1. Led by 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists from Luka Doncic, Dallas jumped out a double-figure lead early on but closed the frame holding a 33-30 advantage.
Dallas needed to maintain the edge they had established in the early going. The Mavericks did so prior to halftime by outscoring the Clippers by a 2-point margin with Doncic leading all scorers with another 9 points.
The Clippers couldn't quite find a breakthrough in the second half of this game. Dallas created held their own throughout the frame to clinch the victory. Perhaps most intriguing of all about the Mavericks' performance in the final period was that Doncic scored only a single point.
While the Mavericks never quite turned this matchup into a blowout, they managed to outscore the Clippers in every quarter and won 10 points in the end. Stealing one game on the road was a need and they got it done early.
Here are some deciding factors in the Mavericks' Game 1 victory over the Clippers … with MFFLs hoping there is carryover:
Clippers' Uncharacteristic Shooting Inaccuracy
One of the greatest strengths of this Clippers team is its ability to convert on spot-up jumpers at not only a high clip but greater than the rest of the NBA. That did not come to fruition in Game 1, to say the least.
No team had a greater output than the Clippers' 1.266 points per possession (PPP) on catch-and-shoot attempts within the half-court in the regular season. Los Angeles producing 0.929 PPP on these attempts on Saturday was the worst of any team's Game 1 performance in the opening round of the playoffs.
Perhaps most interesting of all is how the Clippers managed to produce a staggering 71.4% of their catch-and-shoot attempts as unguarded. Only the Portland Trail Blazers at 73.1% had a higher frequency. Los Angeles created good looks but didn't knock them down.
“We did some good things rotating to shooters but we also have areas where we need to do much better,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “We have great respect for their team, for the way they shoot the ball, and for their two superstar players. When those guys create a problem and we get in a situation where we need to double team, our rotations have to be lightning-quick and on point.”
When those shots start going in for the Clippers, there will be a considerable shift in the overall production of their unit. The Mavericks will need to take full advantage of the performances Los Angeles has when its shooting isn't clicking.
Mavericks Continued To Struggle Protecting The Rim
The Clippers faced little resistance from the Mavericks' when they drove to the basket. This is partly due to a lack of rim protection from the last line of support but also is a product of on-ball defense not containing the initial penetration at the point of attack.
Whether it was after a screen or just simply out of iso, the Mavericks struggled to contain the Clippers from getting to the rim. Luka Doncic, in particular, encountered almost a handful of possessions where he couldn't get it done in this area, but the unit as a whole needs to be better in this regard.
The numbers tell quite the story as the Clippers went 14-of-19 (73.7%) on finishes around the basket within the half-court in Game 1. The Mavericks will be in trouble if those numbers relatively sustain while Los Angeles' shooting execution recovers.
Getting to the rim will be more of a priority for the Clippers as the series goes on to take advantage of the Mavericks' weaknesses. Los Angeles had only 25% of their shot attempts within the half-court come in the form of finishes at the rim in Game 1.
“They did a good job of trying to run us off the line so we gotta do a better job of just attacking them,” Lue said. “I thought we had some good shots as well. When shots are not falling, they’re pretty low in the league, I think 29th in the league, as far as rim protection, so we gotta mix it up. We gotta take our shots, but we also gotta put the ball on the floor and drive and get to the paint, as well.”
It does at least benefit the Mavericks to be facing a matchup that has star players who rely heavily on jump shooting. Leonard and George can undoubtedly get to the rim, but they prefer to pull-up for jumpers at a much greater frequency.
There doesn't appear to be a quick fix to the Mavericks' shortcomings when it comes to containing dribble penetration. There isn't a forceful rim protector on the roster and sending help on drives will lead to troubling results.
Luka Doncic Was The Best Player On The Floor
When the opposition has a talent like Kawhi Leonard, it's not easy to have the best player on the court when he's also on the floor. That was the case for the Mavericks with Luka Doncic finishing with an incredible 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists.
The Clippers encountered significant troubles with containing Doncic in isolation situations after switching on pick-and-roll sequences. Ivica Zubac was routinely picked apart out in space during such circumstances.
Doncic did an effective job of getting downhill out of pick-and-roll to either create a finish attempt at the rim or draw a foul. This was a great way to shake things up when the off-the-dribble jumper wasn't firing on all cylinders.
Where Doncic will need to improve is in his execution as a dribble jump shooter after using a ball screen. He went 2-of-7 (28.6%) from the floor during these particular situations. Managing to convert at a higher clip makes Dallas incredibly challenging to contain.
When the shots are falling for Doncic, slowing him down becomes a truly daunting task. Between his extended range from above the break to his methodical approach to clearing space from the corner, there's little the defense can do.
Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue hinted at having Leonard guard Doncic more during Game 2 when asked about what potential adjustments could be made to slow down the Mavericks superstar.
“He has to carry a lot of the load offensively, and we have three or four guys that we can put on [Doncic] and mix it up,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “But, I think you’ll get what you’re asking for come Tuesday.”
There are a variety of potential concerns from the Clippers' perspective that come from the idea of having Leonard guard Doncic more. It could be challenging to stay out of foul trouble and the load of having to get through ball screens and stay in front of him throughout games isn't light.
It will be fascinating to see the strategy the Clippers decide to use when defending ball screens with Leonard against Doncic. Will they look to outright blitz and trap? Will they switch? Or will Leonard look to fight through the screen while the big drops? Stay tuned...
Mavericks' Supporting Cast Stepped Up
It was mentioned frequently entering this series that complementary perimeter players like Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, and Jalen Brunson would each need to have a strong series for the Mavericks to have a real chance to win.
Each of those three players delivered in Game 1, and did so in a major way. Hardaway Jr. (21), Finney-Smith (18), and Brunson (15) combined for 54 points while going 19-of-29 (65.5%) from the field and 9-of-15 (60.0%) from beyond the arc.
A lot of what Hardaway Jr. and Finney-Smith achieved was within the flow of the offense by being ready to attack off-the-catch. Both players made the most of their opportunities and made the Clippers pay for applying so much defensive attention on Doncic.
It will be borderline impossible for the Hardaway Jr. and Finney-Smith to sustain this level of perimeter shooting because it was so strong. However, just continuing to be efficient and knock shots down and getting to the rim off-the-catch will go a long way as the attention will be on slowing down Doncic.
“There is so much gravitational pull toward him,'' Brunson said. "When the ball is in his hands, everything is focused on him.''
Where Brunson made his mark was by creating some out of a pick-and-roll and out of a spot-up. He was also quite effective playing through contact and initiating it to create trips to the free-throw line. He also was a steady hand at the line when the Clippers were using take fouls to stop the clock in clutch time.
It's likely the Clippers will look to crank up the pressure they apply to Luka Doncic as they did in the fourth quarter of Game 1 - making it vital that complementary players step up and make Los Angeles pay for doing so. That would help force the opposition to revert back to a more neutral approach.
Will the Mavericks manage to go up 2-0 in the series? Stayed tuned for Game 2...