LOS ANGELES – Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the LA Clippers dropped Game 1 of their first round series against the Dallas Mavericks Sunday night, 113-103. Luka Doncic’s 30-point triple-double made sure Dallas walked out of Staples Center Sunday with home-court advantage.
Kawhi Leonard started the game hot, but cooled off in the second half, finishing with 26 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and four steals in 41 minutes of action. George, who struggled early, but got going in the second half, added 23 points, six rebounds, and five assists. It was Doncic, however, who finished with the NBA’s second ever playoff triple-double for an under-22 year old — 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 crucial assists to spot up shooters.
“We’ll be fine,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said of Doncic. “It’s one game. They won. Hats off to those guys, they came in and played well.”
“We weren’t on the same page a few times. We wanted to get it out of his hands in the first half as well and we just didn’t execute the way we needed to. We had a lot of breakdowns, a lot of mistakes defensively that we didn’t execute right. We just got to clean those things up and we will be fine. We got to all be on the same page defensively with what we are doing and when we are changing coverages as well.”
Lue elected to allow Doncic to score in single coverage, and that’s what he continued doing in the first three quarters. In fact, Luka Doncic consistently hunted Ivica Zubac and Reggie Jackson in mismatches all night long. According to NBA.com/stats, Doncic scored 15 of his points on Zubac on 6-of-9 shooting.
“We kind of did it to ourselves,” Lue added. “A lot of breakdowns, a lot of defensive breakdowns that we went over for the last five days that we didn’t execute. So we gotta be better in those areas. We can’t gift them points, they’re too good. Luka makes you pay every time you make a mistake. So we just gotta be better with our coverages and understand what we’re trying to do, and we’ll be able to clean it up going into Tuesday.”
Doncic did the bulk of his damage in the first half with 21 points and six assists. The Clippers repeatedly trapped him in the second half, which resulted in only one point in the fourth quarter. The only problem is he repeatedly found guys like Dorian Finney-Smith (six fourth quarter points) and Jalen Brunson (11 fourth quarter points).
“I thought we got some good shots. I thought they were just making baskets, we were fouling, which was tough at that a time because we was rolling when we were able to get stops, get out, run, play with a faster pace. Once they made shots and we put them to the line it kind of messed with our flow at that point.”
The Clippers came into Game 1 the best three-point shooting team in the league. Unfortunately, they struggled for most of the night and finished just 11-of-40 from three.
“I mean give Dallas credit,” Paul George said postgame. “They’re a good team. Give them all the credit, they’re a good team. This is a 4-5 matchup. So we got to do better. We had to play better today, but give them credit. They came in, they executed. We know what we got to do better for Game 2.”
Kawhi Leonard offered a similar response after the Game 1 loss to Dallas.
“Defensively, I think they did a good job of getting to spots, making it hard for us to get out of those blitzes, double teams on Luka. And they got to the paint, they made big shots. We gotta look at the film to see what the communication factor was out there, see where the miscues were. And just move forward from there.”
No team has more pressure on them to win an NBA title and at least get far in the process like the LA Clippers. That’s why every win and every loss will be looked at with double the significance.
After Game 1, both Leonard and George agreed that spirits are high in the Clippers locker room despite giving home-court advantage back to the Mavs.
“[The vibe of the locker room] is great,” Paul George said after the game.
“Everybody was pretty up, nobody was really down on the game,” Kawhi Leonard added. “Obviously, nobody wants to lose but our spirits are still high and we believe in ourselves, you know, nothing good, you know, comes easy.”
Game 2 between the Clippers and Mavericks is Tuesday night back at Staples Center. Both teams will have two days off to unwind before taking on each other in Game 2.