NBA playoff notebook: Lots on the line in Clippers-Mavericks Game 6

·7 min read
Luka Doncic has a chance to cap one of the great single-round playoff performances in NBA history. (Getty)
Luka Doncic has a chance to cap one of the great single-round playoff performances in NBA history. (Getty)

The Clippers of Los Angeles — the team who signed Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and introduced a “Streetlights over spotlights” slogan as a dig at the attention-craving Lakers, the team who talked trash on social media and on the court and then blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round last year, the team who fell behind 2-0 in their first-round series against the Mavericks this year before rebounding to win the next two games on the road — are facing elimination in Dallas tonight.

After a Game 5 loss at Staples Center — their third home defeat of the series — in which the Clippers were heckled by their own ushers as they walked off the court, the second most popular NBA team in Los Angeles now must find a way to win another road game to save their season.

This series has made absolutely no sense. The Mavs’ supporting cast shot the lights out from three in the first two games and rode Luka Doncic’s brilliance to a 2-0 lead. The series appeared over in Game 3 when Dallas went up 30-11 in the first quarter in front of a raucous home crowd, but the Clippers went to a small lineup which unlocked two road wins to even the series, only to cede control of the series back to Dallas in Game 5.

I have no idea what to expect for Game 6, but the stakes will be very high, especially for the following:

Luka Doncic

I posted this photo as a joke after Game 5, but honestly, the 2007 LeBron James comparisons for what Luka Doncic is doing in these playoffs might not be that far off. Dealing with a nerve issue that is limiting him on certain possessions, the 22-year-old put up 42 points and 14 assists in a Game 5 win against the Clippers. He scored or assisted on all but six Mavericks field goals in the game, and Doncic now has as many 40-point games in the playoffs as Tim Duncan and Magic Johnson had in their entire careers. Every all-time great player has a first signature playoff series win to launch their legacy. I’m not saying the Mavs will get to the Finals like James and the Cavs did in 2007, but if Doncic gets past the Clippers, you have to entertain it as a realistic possibility at least.

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Sam Presti

The general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder has been busy tanking games and accumulating picks as he embarks on a rebuild. In exchange for George, the Clippers gave up the following two summers ago: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, the Clippers first picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026, Miami’s first-round picks in 2021 and 2023, and the right to swap first-round picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025.

The Clippers’ perspective on this trade has always been it also landed them Leonard in free agency, which is a fair way to look at it. Except, if the Clippers lose in the first round, even if Leonard and George return, what moves does the front office still have to tinker with a roster that is not good enough to contend.

Those upcoming Clippers picks and pick swaps suddenly look really appealing, especially if the team flames out in the postseason again.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George

Paul George has become the easy scapegoat for anything that goes wrong in Clippersland, and while he should take some of the blame if the team loses in the first round, the 31-year-old is averaging 24.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in the series.

If the Clippers lose, the blame will have to be shared. Both George and Leonard have been underwhelming in critical moments in this series. There simply aren’t good enough players around their two stars on this roster, but this was always the gambit. The Clippers bet on having the best playoff tandem in the field and thought it would make them favorites in the West. Two years in that has simply not been the case.

Serge Ibaka

Get well soon, Serge. But a guarantee is a guarantee:

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Kristaps Porzingis

Just when I was ready to give up on Kristaps Porzingis, he hit a crucial three-pointer at the end of the fourth quarter in Game 5. The overall play is still frustrating to watch on a nightly basis, but playoffs are very much results-based. A huge series-clinching performance from Porzingis in Game 6 would change the narrative quite a bit.

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Doc Rivers, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell

This trio of former Clippers got plenty of blame for last year’s playoff flameout. Doc Rivers is now coaching the number one seed in the East and facing Lou Williams in the second round. Montrezl Harrell is a Laker and seems content to have left his former team. I’m going to venture to guess none of these three guys are rooting too hard for the Clippers tonight.

Utah Jazz

Waiting to find out their second-round opponent are the Utah Jazz, who just completed a 4-1 series win over the Memphis Grizzlies. The number one seed in the West appears to be rolling after a brief controversy surrounding Donovan Mitchell’s health status in Game 1 of the playoffs. The Mavericks still project as a better matchup for Utah, so they might have a rooting interest in tonight’s game as well. Although I’m guessing the Jazz wouldn’t mind if the Mavs and Clippers went the full seven games.

Masai Ujiri

Just the thought of Masai Ujiri frantically trying to find a stream of Mavs-Clippers Game 6 on his Blackberry Bold 9780 brings a smile to my face. I am most certain Ujiri has more important things to take care of than keeping tabs on this series, but the Raptors were not thrilled with the Clippers franchise’s very transparent recruiting of Leonard two years ago. I’m sure Ujiri wouldn’t mind seeing the Clippers lose in round two, which would mean the Raptors and Clippers would have won the same number of playoff series in the two years since Leonard’s departure. It’s not a championship, but I’m sure Raptors fans will take it.

Lawrence Frank

The former permanent resident of Scotiabank Arena succeeded in landing both Leonard and George two summers ago, but the roster construction around the two stars has been underwhelming. Luke Kennard is making $64 million over the next four years and pinned to the bench in round one (for comparison, OG Anunoby is making $72 million over the next four years). Terrence Mann looks like an intriguing rotation piece, and Nicolas Batum has been a fun resurgence story this year, but they’re playing outsized roles on a team with championship aspirations. The Clippers have spent two years trying to find an adequate point guard on this team and now have an uninspiring trio of Reggie Jackson, Rajon Rondo, and Patrick Beverley.

The Clippers left themselves very little margin for error in roster-building by surrendering all of their draft capital for the foreseeable future for George (and Leonard). If they’re bounced in the first round, you have to wonder if the next change for the franchise will come in the front office.

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