Admit it. The Dallas Mavericks did something you and I didn’t think was possible.
No, not just hold off the vaunted Los Angeles Clippers and win an NBA playoff game for the first time in four years. They won a high-stakes postseason game with superstar Luka Doncic barely contributing down the stretch.
How’d they pull off the 127-114 Game 2 upset?
Kristaps Porzingis stuck around.
Doncic survived foul trouble and built on one of the most prolific scoring starts in NBA playoff history.
Patrick Beverly sat.
Trey Burke, Seth Curry and Boban Marjanovic sparked.
And the Mavs protected the basketball and, in the end, their lead.
With the stars finishing the game and finally aligning, the Mavs on Wednesday outlasted and out-benched the Clippers. In a warped NBA playoff bubble that has already seen No. 8 seeds Portland and Orlando take games off No. 1s Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Lakers, the seventh-seeded Mavs knotted this series 1-1 with tip for Game 3 set for 8 p.m. Friday in Orlando.
Yes, Mavs owner Mark Cuban told DallasBasketball.com at the start of the series that his team believed it could "crush'' somebody. But who really believed?
As in Game 1 against the heavily favored Clippers, the Mavs built a double-digit lead. But this time – with Porzingis not getting ejected and despite Doncic playing limited minutes because of foul trouble – they hung on thanks to huge contributions from Curry (15 points), Burke (16) and Marjanovic (13 points, nine rebounds in 10 minutes). Without injured Clippers’ defensive stopper Beverly around to harass him, Doncic produced 28 points, eight rebounds and seven assists despite picking up his fifth foul 30 seconds into the fourth quarter and playing only 28 minutes.
Dallas did well to let go of a Monday chance lost - “What could have been (in Game 1) doesn’t matter,'' Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "This is an important win and a big opportunity for us'' - and did well to support Luka.
Through two career playoff games, only George Mikan – dunking through peach baskets in 1949 – scored more points than Doncic’s 70 against the Clippers.
When he left the Mavs led 98-85. He sat for seven minutes, returning with 4:26 remaining and Dallas’ lead still a healthy 118-106 thanks to the one-on-one playmaking of Burke and Curry.
The Mavs, who have a horrible history of coughing up late leads this season including to the Rockets in their first bubble game, led by as many as 18 in the fourth before Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers stormed back. Dallas briefly became tentative on offense, walking the ball up the court, settling for late shot-clock jumpers and then missing 11 free throws to ratchet the drama.
The Clippers got as close as 10 before Doncic scored his first basket of the fourth – a floater in the lane to push the margin to 124-112 with 1:30 remaining.
Said Carlisle: "We took a step tonight in the right direction, and it's important to feel what winning feels like."
Indeed, this feeling has been absent for a bit. The Mavs won a playoff game without Dirk Nowitzki on their roster for the first time since Game 6 of the 1988 Western Conference Finals. It is also their first playoff win since April 18, 2016, when Raymond Felton was the leading scorer in a Game 2 win over the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
With Doncic scoring or assisting every point, the Mavs – who trailed 18-2 out of the gate in Game 1 – jumped to a 15-2 lead. NBA playoff games certainly aren’t won or lost in the first quarter, but Carlisle altering his normal substitution pattern curiously neutered the hot start.
When Doncic went out earlier than usual midway through quarter, the Mavs led by 11. The Clippers immediately found their footing and closed within four at the start of the second.
Upon return, the Mavs’ star followed a runner in the lane with a 30-foot rainbow 3-pointer to push Dallas’ lead to 44-27. Doncic’s dominance and a productive cameo by Boban Marjanovic (10 points) forced the vaunted Clippers’ defense out of character and into a desperate half-court trap in an attempt to disrupt Dallas’ rhythm.
Despite Leonard attempting more free throws (12) than the Mavs (10) in the first 24 minutes, the Mavs hung onto a 61-56 halftime edge. ... and then, despite their reputation for inability to close, clung to their edge in a victory, and ...
Admit it. The Mavericks just might do something you and I still don't think is likely. But it's no longer impossible.
“Humble confidence,'' answered KP when asked about Dallas' future, "is the key for us.”