One would think that a squad without Kawhi Leonard would be easy to expose in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The expectation was for Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving to pop off while their supporting cast could hold it down on defense and be serviceable in terms of production. That was not at all the case for the Dallas Mavericks. Coach Jason Kidd may have used the right schemes at times but there were particular players that held them back. This resulted in a big loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Three Mavericks in the frontcourt

Los Angeles Clippers guard James Harden (1) signals after a 3-point basket over Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) in the first half at Arena.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

In the NBA Playoffs, games are no longer determined by the star's production. Their elite skills will always be there which means that the other starters and bench units need to step up. Coach Jason Kidd may have had a headache because no one was able to help his star duo. He had a lot of players enter the Mavericks rotation but Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber took up the most space without having much to show for it.

Playing 27 minutes in the NBA Playoffs brings about some expectations. It would mean acting as the third scoring option at times and, for Kleber, even lighting up from three because of his outside stroke. None of that happened. Kleber finished the game with a meager three points, three assists, and three rebounds.

Clearly, the Mavericks needed more from him on offense. The other concern was that he was also a defensive liability at times. Paul George and the rest of the Clippers were able to hunt him down to create mismatches. When he was assigned to the strong side, a bucket already loomed for the opponents.

Daniel Gafford was the other person who could not produce for the Mavericks. Any Horns set and Pick-and-Rolls were easily predictable once Coach Jason Kidd chose to run them. This was because Luka Doncic or Kyrie Irving would keep the ball rather than pass it to the roll-man. Gafford was not a threat on any front at all. He only scored three points and could not get a single rebound.

Derick Jones Jr. also just notched one rebound for the Mavericks. He may have had a very good night of cardio but there has to be an improvement in the next game so their stars don't get blitzed.

Weak links at the guard spot

Apr 21, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) saves the ball from going out of bounds in the first half during game one of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
© Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

There's a reason why Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are the names that immediately come to mind when thinking about the Mavericks' backcourt. The two combined for an astounding 64 points along with 10 assists and 20 rebounds. They may not have played perfectly but they also did not go down without swinging.

The same cannot be said for Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dante Exum. THJ was entrusted by Coach Kidd to play for 16 minutes but he only got to attempt five field goals. He sank two of them which were good for six points and grabbed three rebounds. But, that was the most he could show for his time on the court.

Exum was far worse in terms of contribution. He only knocked down a single field goal despite attempting four of them. The other point he got was because of hitting one out of his two free throws. This Mavericks guard ended the first game against the Clippers with a grand total of three points.

The next-man-up mentality is missing from the Mavericks. Hopefully, Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving see their teammates grow more in this NBA Playoffs run.