DALLAS — Had you returned Monday from 10 days on a deserted island and no internet, you probably wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that the Mavericks-Clippers playoff series was tied 2-2.
Had you next learned that the Clippers have outscored Dallas 448-429, an average of 4.75 points per game, you probably would make Los Angeles a slight favorite to win the series because two of the potential three remaining games are in Staples Center.
But you haven’t been on an island. Or in a cave. You know all too painfully that the Clippers roared back from an 0-2 deficit by twice winning in American Airlines Center, thus turning this series onto its head.
Los Angeles has so forcefully swung the pendulum to its favor, strategically and from a physicality standpoint, that the Mavericks are in serious jeopardy of joining NBA playoff infamy, even if Luka Doncic’s neck pain subsides.
Entering this postseason only 31 teams had opened a series by winning twice on the road. Now that they have regained homecourt advantage, the Clippers have a good chance to become only the fifth team to rally from starting 0-2 at home.
Among the teams who have pulled off the feat are the 2005 Mavericks, against Houston.
Dallas also is in danger of becoming only the 22nd team, out of 319, to lose a seven-game series after taking a 2-0 lead of any kind. Among the teams in that unfortunate category are the 2006 Mavericks, who blew a 2-0 lead in the NBA finals against Miami.
Though the stakes are considerably lower, this series has a similar feel entering Wednesday night’s Game 5 in Staples Center.
“Game 2, I think we found out how we wanted to attack this team [defensively],” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “And the position we want to put them in when we’re on the offensive end, as well.”
To put it succinctly, the Clippers have gone to smaller lineups that the Mavericks have been unable to effectively counter, much less punish, despite Dallas’ significant height advantage.
Lue went with his smallest starting lineup yet in Game 4, giving 6-8 Nicolas Batum his first start since 2016. That meant the Clippers’ starters were a combined 11 inches shorter than Dallas’, more than two inches per man, though 7-3 Kristaps Porzingis accounted for much of the disparity.
The more athletic lineups have enabled Los Angeles to rotate more nimbly on defense and chase Mavericks shooters off the 3-point line.
Offensively, the Clippers’ smaller lineups have enhanced Los Angeles’ spacing. Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have increased their rim attacks, and when the Mavericks rotate to help it leaves shooters open on the perimeter.
The overall effect? Lethal.
Through the first 7:22 of Game 3, at which point Dallas had a 2-0 series advantage and a 30-11 lead in the third game, the Mavericks had outscored Los Angeles 270-235 in 103:22 of court time.
In the 88:38 of court time since then, the Clippers have outscored the Mavericks 213-159.
“We’ve got to look at the film, the rotations and how we are doing with that,” said Porzingis, who in this series is averaging only 15.3 points, four rebounds and one block. “They are really good at kicking the ball out when we are doubling and moving it around the perimeter.
“Then we run them off the 3-point line. Then they drive and there’s the paint attack and I’m not able to support in the paint. So we got to look to see how we can take some of those away.”
After Dallas’ Game 1 win, Lue on several occasions pointed out that the Mavericks were 29th in the league in rim-protection this season. He implored his players to attack the rim and clearly they got the message.
The Clippers’ points-in-the-paint advantage grew from 38-32 in Game 1, to 60-48 in Game 2, and to 46-24 in Game 3, although Dallas in Game 4 trimmed that deficit to a more reasonable 44-42.
“They’ve got two great players that are just putting their head down and basically trying to go through us,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of Leonard and George. “We’ll look at the film, see what we can do better.
“And, look, the first two games we won were very high-scoring games.”
The Mavericks have gone from scoring 113 points in Game 1 and 127 in Game 2 to averaging 94.5 in Games 3 and 4.
The offensive dropoff is even steeper since that early 30-11 Dallas lead in Game 3. The Mavericks up to that point averaged 2.6 points per minute; since then they have averaged 1.8 per minute.
Meanwhile the Clippers averaged 2.2 points per minute before; 2.4 per minute since then.
That’s how emphatically the series has turned. Of course unless you were on that aforementioned island or in that cave or under a rock, you knew that.