NBA Playoffs: Clippers Oust Mavs, But 'This Is Just The Beginning'
Not Luka Doncic’s heroics.
Not an alteration to an Orlando bubble change of scenery.
Not an injury to the opposition’s defensive stopper.
Not a deep-breath delay because of racial injustice.
Despite numerous improvements, individual accolades and altered venues, the Dallas Mavericks again failed to win a playoff series. With second-leading scorer Kristaps Porzingis still absent due to a knee injury, the Mavs wilted Sunday afternoon in a 111-97 loss Game 6 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Mavs lost a series that – just a week ago, thanks to Doncic’s epic Game 4 game-winner – looked realistically winnable.
The dawn of Luka’s promising career nor the dusk of Dirk Nowitzki’s Hall-of-Fame run have pushed the Mavs past the first round. Since winning their lone championship in 2011, they have gone 7-21 in playoff games and 0-5 in postseason series.
This series against the more talented, heavily favored Clippers was 2-2 seven days ago after Doncic’s 30-foot buzzer-beater that will be played during NBA postseasons forever. But in Games 5 and 6, the Mavs were disappointingly non-competitive. Dallas trailed by 16+ points in each of the series’ last four games and surrendered 265 points in the final two.
Without Porzingis’ firepower – despite the absence of Clippers’ defensive stopper Patrick Beverly – the Mavs failed to break 100 points for the first time in the series in the first game since Dec. 29.
As punchless as the offense was aside from Doncic’s 38 points, the Mavs’ lethargic defense often had the intensity of a rec league game. They missed 26 of their 37 3-pointers, which appeared to sap energy from the other end.
Once down 20, Doncic’s 3-pointer pulled the Mavs within 88-82 early in the fourth quarter. But Kawhi Leonard re-entered for L.A. and scored on a 3, a driving dunk and a jumper to restore order. By the time Reggie Jackson hit his third 3-pointer of the quarter, the Clippers were up 16 and en route to a 4-2 series win.
But, said coach Rick Carlisle of Doncic, "he is one of the toughest players I've ever seen in this league.''
As exciting and enticing as 2020 was — "This,'' Mavs owner Mark Cuban tweeted accurately, "is just the beginning'' — the Mavs have glaring needs. A healthy Porzingis is a must. A defensive enforcer who protects the rim, gobbles rebounds and doesn’t need to take shots. Powered by an NBA-record offense, the Mavs were ultimately done in by the league’s 18th-ranked defense that left too thin of a margin for its perimeter shooters.
As he was all during the restart in Orlando, Doncic was again Superman, this time falling one rebound and one assist short of yet another triple-double. He even withstood a violent double-whack from nemesis Marcus Morris, who was ejected in the second quarter for chopping him on top of the head and in the neck.
We an only imagine the farewell Morris would’ve received had Game 6 been at American Airlines Center.
Said Luka on the subject of Morris, who has repeatedly engaged in such play this series: “I didn’t want to think (a previous incident) was on purpose, but after today’s play ... I don’t want to deal with players like that.”
Given a quick turnaround to the 2021 season, Doncic’s solidified stardom and the promise of a healthy return by Porzingis, the Mavericks have legitimate reasons to be optimistic.
"My goal every season is to win a championship,'' Doncic said. "There's no other goal. That's going to be mine."
But clearly, more than ever, the first hurdle is to simply win a playoff series.
"Lots to be proud of,'' tweeted superstar-turned-superfan Dirk Nowitzki at game's end, "and lots to look forward to.''
And lots of work to do.