On a decidedly far more level playing field, the Dallas Mavericks are now poised to avenge their first-round playoff defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers from last season.
At the NBA bubble near Orlando a year ago, the seventh-seeded Mavericks were dumped by the second-seeded Clippers in six games.
On Friday, the No. 5 seeded Mavericks can bring the season of the No. 4-seeded Clippers to an early end with a victory in Game 6 at Dallas.
And while the opportunity to close out the series on their home court looks like everything has lined up perfectly for the Mavericks, this year’s matchup has been anything but normal. Dallas has built a 3-2 series lead with every victory thus far going to the visiting team.
The last time the first five games of an NBA playoff series went to the visitors was the 1995 Western Conference finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.
“It’s going to come down to the first team with a home victory at this point,” said the Mavericks’ Tim Hardaway Jr., who scored 20 points in Game 5.
The difference maker for Dallas on Wednesday was, of course, Luka Doncic, who scored 12 of his 42 points in a decisive third quarter when the Mavericks outscored the Clippers 33-21 to take an 89-75 lead. Dallas closed out the period on a 16-0 sprint amid a bigger 22-3 run.
Limited by a neck strain in a Game 4 defeat, Doncic was far more agile in Game 5, with his team able to withstand his 1-of-8 shooting from the field in the fourth quarter.
“Luka Doncic is, he’s just one of the toughest players I’ve ever seen, ever been around,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s just a warrior-type guy that happens to be one of the very best players in the world.”
Yet the Clippers still had their chances. Trailing 101-91 with 2:13 remaining, Los Angeles turned tight defense into points with a 9-0 run that cut the deficit to a single point with 39.5 seconds remaining on a three-point play by Kawhi Leonard.
The Clippers even had a chance to take the lead late after a steal from Terance Mann, but on a team with Leonard and Paul George, it was Mann and Nicolas Batum who tried to finish off a fast break, with Mann nearly throwing the ball away and Batum missing a contested shot inside with just under 10 seconds to play.
A tightly-guarded 3-point attempt by Leonard to tie the game with 4.9 seconds remaining fell short. Afterward, it was the third quarter that Leonard lamented most.
“Turnovers. Missed shots,” Leonard said about the decisive period. “They did a good job of making us turn over the ball, collapsing and just missed shots. We couldn’t get anything to go in.”
The Clippers were 8 of 21 (38.1 percent) from the field in the third quarter when they had five of their 12 turnovers. Leonard was 2 of 7 from the field in the third.
Now it is back to Dallas where the Clippers know they can win. The difference from their Game 4 victory on the road, though, will be a healthier Doncic.
“I think we’re fine,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’ll see in two days, but like everybody talked about in the locker room, we’re good.”
–Field Level Media