The saying goes, “revenge is a dish best served cold.”
But for the Dallas Mavericks, revenge will have to wait due to 45 points for Kawhi Leonard and an ice-cold offensive fourth quarter for the Mavericks. Both factors were direct contributors to the 104-97 Mavericks loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the American Airlines Center on Friday night.
“Hell of a game,” Luka Doncic said of Leonard’s performance. “That is what he does.”
Frankly, Doncic is underselling what Leonard did to Dallas’ defense with his shot-making and shot creation. The spirit of Michael Jordan must have possessed him for three quarters of the night’s affair. From midrange pull-ups to step-back 3-pointers to absolutely reckless drives to the basket, Leonard did it all. He played as though his team was on the brink of elimination because it was. Meanwhile, Doncic seemingly shrunk from the moment as the game wore on.
Doncic scored 15 in the first half on 5-11 from the field. He finished the game with 29, but only scored two points in the third quarter. He rebounded with a 12-point fourth quarter, however, with Leonard’s offensive onslaught in the second half, Doncic’s 12 fourth-quarter points lacked the customary punch Mavs fans are accustomed to seeing.
The Clippers utilized blitzes and double-teams in the pick-and-roll to frustrate Doncic. Too often he allowed the double-teams to force the ball out of his hands. And as a result, the Clippers held him well under his 35-point per game average for the series.
“We just got to read it better,” Doncic said. “If they double you, someone is open. I just gotta read it better.”
The game by the numbers:
To touch back on Doncic’s overall night. He wasn’t bad – offensively – in Game 6. The ball was effectively taken out of his hands. He still managed to score 29 points and dish out 11 assists. For any star, that is a winning stat line. Yet for the Mavs, it only highlights the shortcomings this roster is littered with. The lack of top-end talent, coupled with the Doncic centric offensive system, means that if the Mavs can’t get their star guard to 30-plus points on the night, winning the game only gets tougher.
It’s not a coincidence that in the Mavs’ three wins in the series, Doncic is averaging 37.1 points per game. In the three losses, he is averaging barely 30. A ridiculously high usage rate (39.2) for your best player is a double-edged sword. Though it gives your team the best chance to win, it disrupts the natural flow of the game for everyone else on the floor. It’s hard to feel engaged when you’re stuck watching someone else dribble the ball to no end on every possession.
Doncic’s night highlighted the flaws in a single-player-centric offense – eventually, teams crack it.
That moment came in the fourth quarter, as Dallas’ pace-setting offense sputtered. As a team, the Mavs shot 29 percent from the field and 25 percent from three. Everyone not named Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Josh Richardson scored 0 points in the frame.
The final quarter provided a powerful juxtaposition for the two extremes of this Dallas offense. All series, the Mavs had a knack for timely baskets. In Game 6, that offense was chalked-full of untimely misses.
Still, Dallas lives to fight at least one more day.
It is the two best words in basketball – Game 7. This is the first series in NBA history where the home team hasn’t won a single home game through Game 6. Now, Dallas is headed back to the Staples Center – a place they have effectively owned the last three games – for the biggest game of the year. in Game 7’s anything is possible. Moreover, with Leonard on the other team, that cliche is only amplified.
It’s only fitting that with these two teams, the year comes down to one game. And in that one game, it will most likely come down to a handful of plays and possessions. Sunday is win or go home for Dallas – it’s survive and advance.
“It’s alright, we are still motivated,” Doncic said. “Its Game 7, it doesn’t matter where you are.”
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Feature image via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports.