Game 5’s in the NBA Playoffs operate in an unusual vacuum.
They don’t carry the same amount of pressure as a Game 7. And there isn’t as much angst as a Game 1. But the winner of this often middling game goes on to win the series 83 percent of the time. There is an unusual chippiness to the events on the court, but it’s a welcomed edge. In some ways, it’s comforting seeing two teams, with their backs against the wall, fighting to stay in command of the overall series.
Game 5’s are a spectacle. They instill performances that fans often can’t forget. And they manufacture outstanding playoff moments that live on in NBA lore forever. If you need proof, see Damian Lillard’s latest performance against Denver on Tuesday.
There is no way around it, Game 5’s exist in a vacuum. One that is tailor-made for historic performances and dominant statistical outputs from individual superstars.
However, it’s that understanding that makes the Dallas Mavericks’ Game 5 against the Los Angeles Clippers so unique. It had the individual performance on par with star players in Game 5’s – Doncic registered a 42-point and 14 assist night. It had the urgency of two teams that knew exactly what was at stake. And it had the aura of desperation, as both coaches made adjustments hoping it would unlock the answer to slowing down the other team.
Yet as the final buzzer indicated a 105-100 win for the Mavericks, it was the clutch fourth-quarter defense that made the difference in Wednesday night’s Game 5 vacuum in Staples Center.
How it happened:
With a 10-point Dallas lead (101-91) and 2:13 left on the game clock, the Los Angeles Clippers put together a 9-0 run to bring the game within one possession with 39 seconds left on the clock.
An untimely Doncic turnover, his fourth of the night, led to a Clippers fast break with less than 20 seconds left in the game. For a moment, Mavericks fans’ hearts sank as Paul George slung a pass to Terance Mann, who drove baseline and looked open for a layup with Doncic on his back.
He dumped off the ball to Nicolas Batum, who collided with numerous bodies under the rim as his layup rolled off the back iron. Tim Hardaway Jr. grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled. Two free throws later, Dallas led 103-100. Out of the Clippers’ timeout, Dallas forced Kawhi Leonard into a fadeaway corner three that really had no chance to go in. Josh Richardson was fouled, but with 4.4 seconds on the clock, it was a mere formality, and the result was the 105-100 final score.
The game was won, not because of late fourth-quarter heroics from Doncic, but from two sound defensive possessions. For a team riddled with defensive questions coming into the season and this series, it’s only fitting that in the biggest moments of Game 5, Dallas relied on its defense to win.
“Very intense up and down game. A lot of emotions,” coach Rick Carlisle said. ”I thought our guys did a great job with composure.”
Though Dallas relied on its defense in the fourth quarter, they clearly relied on Doncic during the rest of the game, and he didn’t disappoint.
In the first quarter, he looked primed for a 50-point night, registering 19 points on 7-11 from the field. Things slowed down in the second frame of action, but still, by halftime, he tallied 27 points and eight assists.
In the third, it was again, Doncic’s offense that stood center stage as Dallas ignited on a 20-5 run. He was at the center of everything Dallas did offensively. He very rarely isn’t. However, Game 5 was another schooling in how Doncic not only controls the tempo of the game, but he dictates the shots his teammates get, and he curates offense out of lost possessions – sometimes even thin air.
The secret is out, Doncic is on the fast track to being the best offensive player of his generation. There is nothing he can’t do with the ball in his hands.
“Luka Doncic is just one of the toughest players I’ve ever seen or been around,” Carlisle said. “He’s just one of these warrior-type guys who just happens to be one of the best players in the world.”
Heading home for Game 6:
Here we are again. Dallas leads the series 3-2, but none of the Mavs’ wins came in front of the home crowd. The last series to follow a similar pattern was the 1995 Western Conference Finals between the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs. In that series, the lower seeded Rockets went on to win in Game 6. Now, Dallas hopes to do the same in its Game 6 on Friday. History always has a funny way of repeating itself.
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Feature image via Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports.