Luka Doncic continued his masterful postseason run on Sunday afternoon, when he hit the game-winning three-pointer to give his Dallas Mavericks a 135-133 victory over Kawhi Leonard, Lou Williams, and the LA Clippers in Game 4. The series is now tied at 2-2, and it’s safe to say both teams have what it takes to win this series to advance to the second round.
While the game presented countless opportunities to Clippers fans to rip their hair out, the final play was a blunder of a different magnitude.
The Clippers had just taken a one-point lead in overtime on a feed from Kawhi Leonard to Marcus Morris in the corner for three. The Clippers needed a stop in the final nine seconds, and had a foul to give just in case.
Reggie Jackson had a good offensive game for the Clippers, but was hunted by the Mavs on switches all game long. It got to the point where the switch meant an automatic bucket for the player being defended by Jackson. The backup guard remained on the floor for the final defensive possession, which brought up questions as to… well, why.
The Mavs threw Luka Doncic the ball in the backcourt, and as he dribbled upcourt, set a screen to get Kawhi Leonard off Doncic and Jackson on him. Jackson fouled as soon as Doncic began his drive to the rim. With 3.7 seconds left on the clock after the foul, the Mavs called timeout again to draw up another play.
At this point, everyone thought Jackson was probably headed to the bench in favor of a longer, more capable defender so the Mavs couldn’t pick on him once again. I even tweeted that exact line, knowing good and well what could happen otherwise.
I don't think the Clippers should roll Reggie Jackson back out there for the final defensive possession.
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) August 23, 2020
Yeah, that didn’t happen. Instead, Jackson stayed in the game. In order to avoid being picked off and giving up a wide open shot, the Clippers elected to switch everything. Jackson started out on Tim Hardaway Jr., shifted over to Maxi Kleber, and then to Luka Doncic. Jackson was now on an island defending the best player of the playoffs.
Luka caught the ball running towards half-court, took a few dribbles towards the basket, and crossed over right. Now, given how poorly Doncic shoots while going right, the Clippers were in decent shape to get a stop here. The mistake here was allowing Luka Doncic to cross back over to the left and take the in-rhythm dribble into his signature step-back three-pointer. The rest is history.
“BANG BANG!” Mike Breen exclaimed. It was the rare Double ‘BANG’ that was used only once prior in response to Stephen Curry’s half-court game winner against the Thunder in 2016.
LUKA DONCIC WINS IT FOR THE MAVERICKS 😱pic.twitter.com/Gs684elVQu
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) August 23, 2020
When asked after the game, Rivers said he fully expected the Mavs to try and get Doncic on a switch.
“Yeah, you always switch everything at the end of the clock,” Doc Rivers said. “But you’re supposed to switch to a denial. And we didn’t. Like, again, we just didn’t. We switched and allowed their best player to catch the ball with three seconds left.”
So what was with the decision to leave Jackson in the game after being targeted throughout overtime? We’ll never know, as Rivers didn’t directly address it. He did, however, say that he wished he did something differently to prepare for that final shot.
“Obviously Luka made the shot, right? Clearly we wished we could have done something else, but there’s only 3 seconds left. I thought overall Reggie did pretty well. But the last play we let him go left for a shot. Bottom line is the last play didn’t lose the game for us; it was our entire play from the second quarter on.”
Rivers was right. That Doncic shot wasn’t the only reason the Clippers lost, but it does bring many questions to the table. Did the Clippers not have any better options late in the game? Could Ivica Zubac, who only played a minute and 36 seconds in the final 17 minutes, have made a difference on the inbounder as well? Should the Clippers have sent a double-team at Doncic as soon as he started dribbling to make someone else beat them? Where was Landry Shamet, who played a little over four minutes in the fourth quarter and overtime?
“Yeah, we switched,” Leonard said. “That was the game plan. He’s a great player, made a great shot. Got to his spot and made it.”
Lou Williams, who isn’t known for his defense, said there wasn’t much to do on Luka Doncic other than your best.
“Play them as best you can. He’s one of the more talented players in the league. He’s an All-Star caliber guy, young. He plays with a lot of confidence.”
To Jackson’s credit, he was fantastic offensively for the Clippers. He made the big shots, the right passes, and even had a game-changing save to Leonard for three that, frankly, the Clippers don’t even get to overtime without. He had 14 points, four rebounds, two assists, and no turnovers on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. He was a +16 in 28 minutes.
But he should not have been one of the defensive options with a game on the line.
The Clippers held a 21-point lead mid-way through the second quarter before taking their foot off the pedal. That 54-33 lead quickly dissipated, and with 9:07 left in the fourth quarter, the Mavs had outscored the Clippers 73-40 since that big lead.
“I thought that end of the second, the whole second quarter, they’re making a run, getting back in the game,” Rivers added. “It changed the whole complexity of the game. Honestly, I thought we were very emotionally weak tonight, to be honest.
“Throughout — and I’ve been saying this for three games now — we’re so much better than what we’re playing. But honestly, give Dallas credit. Like could’ve given up down 21, they’re minus Porzingis. But they didn’t and they just stayed in the game. They just kept playing, they played together. They moved the ball. And you can see the different in the spirits. Like they make a run and everybody’s excited. You know, they make a run on us, and we cave-in. So that’s on all of us. Me too. I’ve got to get our guys right.”
LA ultimately had a chance to win at the buzzer in regulation, but Kawhi Leonard missed a 19-foot fadeaway jumper.
Paul George, who struggled again for the Clippers shooting just 3-of-14 for nine points, credited the Mavs for their defense and shot-making, but thinks the series should be different right now.
“If I make shots, this series could be a little different. And that’s the obvious, of course. That’s what it just comes down to. But give them credit, they’re playing well, they’re defending, they’re shooting the ball, Luka is playing phenomenal — you gotta give credit where credit is due. But to be honest, in hindsight, if I shoot the ball better, this series would be a lot different.”
The Clippers have so much to try and fix between now and Game 5 on Tuesday night. Will they be fixed? That remains to be seen.