Porzingis Ejected, Mavs Dejected, Clippers Win Game 1

Richie Whitt

Facing the more experienced and highly favored Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, Dallas Mavericks’ star Luka Doncic knew his team’s game plan was irrational.

“We have to do almost everything perfectly,” he said. “It’s going to be tough.”

Doncic was at times brilliant – setting an NBA record with 42 points in his first playoff game – but far from flawless.

And if the Mavs are to upset one of the NBA championship favorites and win their first playoff series since 2011, they’ll collectively have to be much better than in Monday night’s 118-110 Game 1 loss in Orlando.

Coach Rick Carlisle may have a point when he says of MVP candidate Doncic, “I thought his performance was spectacular when you factor in how much he is hit, held, fouled and everything else.''

Still, Luka and the Mavs were far from perfect; at times their performance was barely recognizable.

In their first playoff game without Dirk Nowitzki in 30 years, the Mavs …

*Stumbled out of the gate to an 18-2 deficit.

*Committed 21 turnovers, including 11 by Doncic.

*After scorching their way to 69 points in the first half, managed only 41 in the final 24 minutes.

*Saw their two stars – Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis – spend time in the locker room. Doncic left the court after twisting his ankle during a first-quarter slip; Porzingis was ejected in the third after a questionable technical foul.

Despite the bad play and bad fortune, the Mavs trailed only 99-98 halfway through the fourth quarter. In the final 2:30, however, Dallas failed to score on consecutive transition possessions while Patrick Beverly, Marcus Morris Sr. and Paul George made key 3-pointers for L.A.

The Mavs, now 0-4 against the Clippers this season, could take pride in playing a competitive game without Porzingis. Dallas led by 14 points, in fact, in the second quarter.

They led 71-66 when Porzingis was ejected – for the first time in his career – after picking up his second questionable technical foul. In the first half, he picked up a T after demonstratively arguing his clean blocked shot. Then came the key skirmish of the game.

During a Doncic drive to the hoop a whistle stopped play, but not Morris. The Clipper grabbed Doncic’s shoulder and refused to let go. Words were exchanged and Porzingis ran to his teammate’s defense, lightly shoving Morris and – after review – getting called for a technical.

In the NBA Playoffs, neither of those reactions should be called. For anything.

Tweeted Nowitzki, “That ejection is super soft.”

Agreed LeBron James, “Man, that was BOGUS AS HELL MAN!!!!! C’mon.''

Even Clippers coach Doc Rivers said “I don’t like him being out.”

From Luka: “I knew KP had my back. He did it for me and his teammates. I didn’t think it was fair to kick him out of the game, especially in the playoffs.''

From KP, when asked if the second T was warranted: "No. Of course not. Of course not. But I understand. We got into it a little bit. I saw him getting into Luka's face. I didn't like that. That's why I reacted."

With their second-leading scorer (and one of the top 10 players in the Orlando bubble) in the locker room, the Mavs missed nine of their 10 3-pointers and trailed by five entering the final 12 minutes.

The Clippers entered the playoffs as one of the favorites to win the championship, partly because of their immense experience. They have 504 games of postseason know-how, compared to only 133 for the Mavs. Since capturing Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals, Dallas was 5-16 in the playoffs without winning a single series.

Only backup point guard J.J. Barea remains on the roster from that title team. The last time the Mavs won a playoff game – in 2016 – it got production from ZaZa Pachulia, Raymond Felton, Charlie Villanueva and, of course, Nowitzki.

Doncic, who was only 17 the last time the Mavs were in the postseason, played with a bum ankle and characteristically stuffed the stat sheet with 42 points, seven rebounds and nine assists to offset his alarming turnovers. His playoff debut topped some of the NBA’s all-time great’s first games including LeBron James (32-11-11), Michael Jordan (23-10-4), Magic Johnson (13-16-12) and Steph Curry (19-9-4), while dwarfing others such as Nowitzki (20-12-1), Larry Bird (15-7-3), Giannis Antetokounmpo (12-5-4) and Kobe Bryant (2-0-0).

The Mavericks waited 1,575 days to return to the NBA Playoffs.

It took them all of 3:30 to initially regret the trip.

But trailing 18-2 with a flurry of turnovers and Doncic in the locker room with a sprained left ankle, the young, inexperienced team that embarrassingly fell down the stairs shockingly and immediately recovered.

Dallas committed turnovers on its first three possessions. Doncic had his dribble stolen, had the ball slapped off his leg out of bounds on a drive and was stripped on a pump fake – all before making his first shot. The Mavs trailed 10-0 and then by 16 when Doncic slipped and fell on a drive for yet another miscue.

But instead of folding, the Mavs fought back.

Without their MVP candidate on the court, they tied the score at 22 on a Seth Curry transition triple and took their first lead at 30-29 on a rare 3-pointer by seldom used Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

When Doncic returned, regrouped and regained his form, the Mavs had amazingly obliterated Los Angeles’ 18-2 run with a 48-18 blitz that gave them a 14-point lead midway through the second quarter.

The Mavs had not played a playoff game since April, 2016, back in the days before Dak Prescott was a Dallas Cowboy, the Texas Rangers were winning the American League West led by ace pitcher Cole Hamels, and Donald Trump was merely a reality TV host.

But despite all of that ...

"Our belief is still strong,'' KP said, "that we can beat these guys."

Now they'll play a Game 2 ... hopefully with a more seasoned Luka and a more eligible Porzingis.