One season after dropping a 3-1 result in the Denver Nuggets within the Western Convention semifinals, the LA Clippers as soon as once more discover themselves going through elimination, this time in Spherical 1 in opposition to the Dallas Mavericks in a pivotal Recreation 6 on Saturday.
Luka Doncic, who delivered one of many league’s most iconic sport winners in opposition to the Clips in final yr’s postseason, has continued to offer the opposition suits to the tune of averaging 35 factors within the first 5 video games of the sequence. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been clutch for the Mavericks as effectively, taking pictures 48.6% from 3 and averaging 17 factors to assist carry the load when Doncic sits.
Can Kawhi Leonard and Paul George discover a answer to decelerate the Mavericks’ backcourt? Extra importantly, can Leonard and George sustain with simply Doncic? The Clippers’ stars outscored Luka by just one level in Recreation 5 (43 to 42), and Doncic one-upped the duo in factors created (75 to 61) on Wednesday.
From what the most important surprises have been on this sequence to who may be the X issue to find out whether or not we see a Recreation 7, our specialists break down all issues Clippers and Mavericks forward of Recreation 6 (9 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN App) on Friday night time.
1. What’s the largest cause, other than Luka Doncic’s play, that the Clippers path on this sequence?
Kevin Arnovitz: In a span of lower than 5 minutes within the third quarter on Wednesday night time, the Clippers have been outscored 22-3. They let Doncic get unfastened in transition with none resistance, provided poor assist protection behind their perimeter traps of Doncic — by no means a good suggestion as a result of the person loves a lure — they usually coughed up the ball twice on the uncommon events they ventured into the paint on the offensive finish. That is how lengthy it takes to muddy your fortunes within the NBA playoffs: 5 minutes.
Tim MacMahon: The Mavs had a pair of scorching taking pictures performances to open the sequence. In keeping with Second Spectrum knowledge, Dallas’ quantified shot high quality within the first two video games was 48.7%, which signifies that was the expected efficient subject purpose proportion based mostly on the appears they bought. Their precise efficient subject purpose proportion in these video games was 65.5%. Tim Hardaway Jr. specifically had the flamethrower firing, hitting 11 of his 17 3-point makes an attempt in these two wins.
Kevin Pelton: Dallas’ shot-making. In keeping with Second Spectrum’s quantified shot chance metric, which components within the shooter’s potential along with the placement of pictures, their kind and the space of close by defenders, no staff has gotten worse pictures within the first spherical than the Mavericks. But their efficient subject purpose proportion has nonetheless been higher than common due to shot-making surpassed solely by the Utah Jazz.
Andre Snellings: The Clippers have been unable to determine any form of staff determine on this sequence. They’re constructed to be a powerful defensive unit throughout the board with two wonderful scorers and a staff filled with robust function gamers and shooters to fill the gaps. As an alternative, they have been a defensive sieve for almost all of the sequence and their non-superstar “others” have been largely chilly. They’ve performed like they’re on their heels, reacting as a substitute of placing their very own stamp on the sport.
Ohm Youngmisuk: The Clippers’ lack of protection. Doncic has been unbelievable, however he hasn’t been doing his largest injury within the fourth quarters. It is the opposite Mavericks who’re killing the Clippers down the stretch — resembling Tim Hardaway Jr., Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber — once they completely want stops. The Clippers are speculated to be an elite defensive staff, however Video games 1 and a couple of noticed so many breakdowns that coach Ty Lue needed to simplify the protection in an try to restrict communication breakdowns. The Clippers’ protection has seemed far more shaky than elite.
2. What has been most stunning about this sequence to this point?
Youngmisuk: What has been probably the most stunning factor about this sequence to this point? The Clippers’ method to Doncic. It is one factor to be unable to comprise Nikola Jokic final yr. However this staff is constructed with elite wing defenders to have the ability to decelerate a star like Doncic. Even when Lue says the Clippers are OK with Doncic consuming however are attempting to maintain him from getting others concerned, Doncic is averaging 35 factors per sport. In Recreation 5, the Clippers surrendered solely 105 factors however 42 went to Doncic. Cease Doncic maybe three extra occasions and the Clippers are up 3-2. Kawhi Leonard has had probably the most success guarding Doncic, holding him to 5-for-16 taking pictures (31.3%) so far, per ESPN Stats & Info analysis. In the event that they wish to prolong the season, Leonard has to protect Doncic extra.
Arnovitz: That it has come to this for the Clippers. They’ve overhauled their roster, modified their head coach, refined their defensive method and adopted a way of urgency, and but they’re once more at risk of being unceremoniously and prematurely dispatched from the playoffs. They’re on this place regardless of getting nice minutes from their small (and most typical) lineup and stable manufacturing general from their two superstars. Much more bizarrely — solely the Atlanta Hawks have restricted their first-round opponent to a decrease high quality of pictures. The whole factor defies rationalization, but in the event that they bow out on this sequence, the Clippers could have a whole lot of explaining to do.
MacMahon: The Mavs have managed to place the Clippers on the point of elimination regardless of Kristaps Porzingis averaging solely 13.8 factors and 4.4 rebounds per sport. Coach Rick Carlisle made some extent to reward Porzingis for being “affected person” after Video games 1 and 5, when he had 14 and eight factors, respectively, however contributed some clutch buckets. Porzingis’ offensive worth on this sequence is extra as a flooring spacer than a focus. “Simply doing what’s greatest for the staff and staying prepared for the second,” he mentioned after Recreation 5.
Pelton: It hasn’t actually affected the result in any respect, however undoubtedly probably the most stunning factor is that Doncic is taking pictures 43% from the foul line. There was just one different five-game stretch in Luka’s NBA profession through which he has didn’t shoot a minimum of 50% on free throws: Feb. 22 to March 1 of this yr, when he shot 48% (15-of-31).
Snellings: The Clippers’ incapacity to even gradual Luka down slightly bit. Luka’s a terrific participant, so that you’d count on him to supply, however the Clippers are filled with gamers reputed to be wonderful wing defenders. Between Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and a string of robust defensive function gamers, you’d assume they might hold him throughout the realm of merely “nice.” However when wholesome, Luka has been enjoying like the most effective of the NBA legends in historical past, surpassing even probably the most lofty of expectations. That is stunning.
3. Which participant on both staff would be the largest X think about Recreation 6?
Snellings: Needs to be Tim Hardaway Jr. Within the Mavericks’ three wins. He has averaged 23.0 factors on 46% FG with 4.7 3PG. Of their two losses, he has averaged 8.0 factors on 23 FG% with 2.0 3PG. Hardaway performs off of Luka, however for the Mavericks to win, they want him to determine himself because the clear second scorer on the staff.
Youngmisuk: Marcus Morris has to play massive on each ends for the Clippers. When he’s hitting his 3-point pictures, Morris opens all the pieces else up for the Clippers. However simply as important as his offense is his physicality. Reggie Jackson mentioned the Clippers performed with a “villain” mentality to win two video games at Dallas. No Clipper embodies this persona greater than Morris, who’s an agitator and might help set the tone for the Clippers. And defensively, Morris has been the second-best defender on Doncic, holding the Mavs star to 6-for-15 taking pictures (40%), in response to ESPN Stats & Data analysis.
Arnovitz: Hardaway and the remainder of Dallas’ perimeter shooters. Doncic’s imaginative and prescient is probably the most potent weapon within the sequence and it is incumbent upon the beneficiaries of that imaginative and prescient — the fellows receiving the ball — to optimize their alternatives.
MacMahon: Hardaway has been the most important X issue all sequence. He has averaged 23 factors on 50% taking pictures within the Mavs’ three wins, hitting dagger 3s in two of these video games. He scored a complete of 16 factors on 5-of-22 taking pictures in Dallas’ two losses. Ty Lue has emphasised the significance of working Hardaway off the 3-point line. He is a sniper who works effectively off of Doncic, rising because the Mavs’ No. 2 choice since returning to the beginning lineup late within the season.
Pelton: Rajon Rondo. Throughout the Clippers’ two wins in Dallas, they outscored the Mavericks by 36 factors in Rondo’s 47 minutes of motion, getting precisely what they hoped once they traded for him in March. Playoff Rondo was not in proof in Recreation 5, when he missed all six of his shot makes an attempt and Dallas was plus-19 in Rondo’s 21 minutes.
Stephen A. Smith calls out Kawhi Leonard after the Clippers’ Recreation 5 defeat in opposition to the Mavericks.
4. Fill within the clean: The Clippers win Recreation 6 if _____.
Pelton: The Mavericks strive one other heavy dose of zone protection. The Clippers bought too many open appears from 3-point vary in opposition to the zone, averaging 1.15 factors per possession, in response to Second Spectrum monitoring, as in comparison with 1.03 factors in opposition to Dallas’ man-to-man protection.
Snellings: The Clippers will win Recreation 6 if they will discover a technique to cease Luka from doing no matter he desires. He is absolutely the catalyst of all the pieces the Mavericks wish to do, and with Kristaps Porzingis held largely in test, the Mavericks do not have a Plan B. If the Clippers’ protection stands up, they will win.
Youngmisuk: If Kawhi Leonard and Paul George play on the relentless famous person degree that they did in Video games 3 and 4 in Dallas and in the event that they get a handful of vital stops. They have to be capable to decelerate the Mavericks’ exterior shooters, they usually need to climate the storm within the opening minutes in what will probably be a frenzied, hostile atmosphere. In the event that they fall behind 30-11 once more within the first quarter, the Clippers’ season might be over.
Arnovitz: They assault the Mavs off the dribble and never allow them to off the hook defensively. That does not imply they need to abandon the 3-pointer, which has served them extremely effectively all season. However there isn’t any good cause they should not be transferring downhill at will and with power.
MacMahon: They get comfy attacking Dallas’ zone. The Clippers anticipated that adjustment in Recreation 5, with Lue predicting throughout his pregame availability that the Mavs would swap their beginning lineup to incorporate Boban Marjanovic, who clearly wasn’t going to be enjoying man-to-man protection on the perimeter. It is one factor to apply in opposition to it and one other to see it in a sport. The zone disrupted the Clippers’ rhythm — particularly Kawhi Leonard’s — and the Mavs have been capable of hold them off stability from switching from zone to man all through the sport.
5. Fill within the clean: The Mavericks win Recreation 6 if _____.
MacMahon: Luka lights it up once more. He hasn’t simply been a famous person within the Mavs’ win. He has been traditionally dominant, averaging 37.3 factors and 10.7 assists in these video games. After all, not even an otherworldly efficiency from Doncic ensures as Dallas win, as evidenced by his 44-point, nine-rebound, nine-assist night time within the Mavs’ Recreation 3 loss. However when Doncic has been capable of look to his left — which his cervical pressure stored him from doing comfortably in Recreation 4, the Clippers had no options for him.
Pelton: Luka is much and away the most effective participant on the courtroom, as he was in Recreation 5. Not solely would that imply Doncic is working the present on offense, the place he was chargeable for 75 of Dallas’ 105 factors between his personal scoring and assists, it could additionally imply Kawhi Leonard isn’t reaching the extent at which he performed throughout Video games 3 and 4 of the sequence.
Snellings: The Mavericks will win if Luka continues to be the dominant participant on the courtroom who manipulates the motion like Giapetto, which begins with him being wholesome. Within the 5 halves this sequence through which Luka has seemed to be wholesome, the Mavericks have clearly been the higher staff. Within the three halves through which Luka seemed injured, the Clippers have taken over. To shut this out, the Mavericks want one other dominant efficiency from their MVP.
Youngmisuk: The Mavericks will win Recreation 6 … in the event that they play with the identical urgency they’ve in Staples Middle and may discover a technique to hold Doncic recent within the fourth quarter. Doncic is taking pictures solely 6-for-27 for a complete of 17 factors mixed within the fourth quarter this sequence to this point. If the Mavericks trip the momentum of returning to their dwelling crowd and get off to a sizzling begin once more, they need to discover a technique to shut it out and have Doncic ship the fourth-quarter daggers.
Rajon Rondo is none too happy with Kawhi Leonard placing up a late air ball within the Clippers’ loss to the Mavs.
Arnovitz: Luka does what Luka does. If he will get to his left, all the pieces is at his disposal: passes to shooters, lobs to his massive males, wrap-arounds to everybody, floaters in opposition to uncommitted defenders, magical probes that yield who is aware of what and can hang-out the Clippers for the following 9 months. That is actually what generational skills do — they fill within the blanks.
Bonus: If the Clippers win Recreation 6, who wins Recreation 7?
Arnovitz: Luka renders all predictions pointless.
MacMahon: Effectively, my prediction going into the sequence was Clippers in seven, so I suppose I am going to keep it up. Even when meaning going out on a limb and betting on a house staff truly successful a sport on this wild sequence.
Pelton: I’ve given up attempting to foretell the Clippers within the playoffs.
Snellings: If the Clippers win Recreation 6, they’d need to be favored to win Recreation 7 at dwelling. Granted, this might imply that the highway staff had received all six video games so far, however after having been largely managed within the first 2½ video games with Luka wholesome, the Clippers have been proper there to win Recreation 5 and on this situation would’ve received Recreation 6. A Clippers win in Recreation 6 would counsel strongly that they’d lastly began to resolve the thriller the Mavericks have offered them with.
Youngmisuk: Probably the most Clipper-ish factor to do could be to lose the primary two video games at dwelling, win two in a row on the highway, return dwelling and lose, solely to power a Recreation 7 by successful on the highway once more simply to lose a pressure-packed, do-or-die, future-on-the-line Recreation 7. BUT if the Clippers power a Recreation 7, it is arduous seeing them shedding all 4 of their properties video games in a sequence, even with their historical past for calamity.