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4 reasons the Dallas Mavericks crashed out of the 2021 NBA playoffs

After an entertaining seven game series, the Dallas Mavericks have lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, ending their playoff run.

While the Mavs were underdogs in every game, the first round exit stings, especially after taking 2-0 and 3-2 series leads. These are the five reasons the Dallas Mavericks lost this playoff series.

Questionable coaching by Rick Carlisle 

Rick Carlisle started the series strong with his offensive game plan. Dallas targeted Patrick Beverley and Ivica Zubac, leading to incredible performances by Luka Doncic and two away wins. After the Clippers were down by 19 points midway through the first quarter of Game 3, Coach Ty Lue finally removed Beverley and Zubac from the lineup, jumpstarting a comeback which saved the series for the Clippers.

Carlisle didn’t have an answer for this adjustment. He surprisingly started Boban Marjanovic in Game 5, which Dallas won, but the Clippers figured out how to take advantage of the Serbian’s poor defense. Carlisle also made bizarre rotation decisions, giving Trey Burke minutes in Game 7, but barely playing Dwight Powell after his Game 5 heroics. 

Timeouts were also a problem for Dallas. Carlisle called multiple timeouts while the Mavericks had a lead and momentum. When they came back from the timeout, the Clippers almost always took over and closed the lead.

Few coaches could have taken this Mavericks team past the Clippers, but the Mavs would be in the second round if not for a few of Carlisle’s bad decisions.

Over-reliance on zone defense

4 reasons the Dallas Mavericks crashed out of the 2021 NBA playoffs
Jun 6, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) controls the ball against Dallas Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis (6) and forward Tim Hardaway Jr. (11) during the first half in game seven of the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas played zone defense in the last three games of the series, despite not utilizing a zone during the regular season. At first, the zone seemingly worked. Marjanovic had decent rim protection and the Clippers’ shooters couldn’t score. However, the Clippers shooting woes wouldn’t last. In the series decider, the Clippers shot an efficient 46.5% on 43 shots. Dallas dared the Clippers to beat them by shooting three pointers and the Clippers did exactly that.

Even during the Dallas win in Game 5, the Clippers started figuring out the zone defense. However, Carlisle stuck with it for the rest of the series, which proved to be the wrong choice.

The Mavericks struggled to guard Kawhi Leonard, but the zone made matters worse, allowing the Clippers’ role players to get easy shots. It was an interesting experiment, but one that was ultimately a failure.

Dallas Mavericks’ bench failed to step up

Dallas came into the playoffs with one of the best bench units in the NBA. Tim Hardaway Jr., and Jalen Brunson both finished in the top five for Sixth Man of the Year voting and Josh Richardson was a solid rotation piece. Hardaway Jr., was moved to the starting lineup and had a good series, but the rest of the bench severely underperformed.

Once Beverley was relegated to the bench, Brunson struggled in this series. The Clippers all wing lineups were a bad matchup for Brunson, but he still should have performed better. The former Villanova star had been one of the Mavericks’ best players all season, yet he finished the series with a -56 plus-minus score. Dallas got virtually nothing out of him all series, a major disappointment after his stellar season.

Richardson was brought to Dallas for a series like this, but his regular-season struggles continued in the playoffs. Known for his wing defense, Richardson was a non-factor against Leonard and Paul George. His poor defensive play was one of the reasons the Mavericks turned to the zone. 

After giving up two turnovers in the series finale, Carlisle pulled Richardson and never played him again. Even if Richardson picks up the player option on his contract, it’d be surprising if he played for Dallas again.

The poor play of Kristaps Porzingis

4 reasons the Dallas Mavericks crashed out of the 2021 NBA playoffs
May 25, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. (8) holds the jersey of Dallas Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis (6) during the second quarter of game two in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Every other reason for the Mavericks’ playoff failure pales in comparison to the fact that Kristaps Porzingis did not show up for this series.

The Latvian never felt comfortable versus LA, even when Dallas ran plays designed for him. Eventually, Carlisle stopped running plays for Porzingis and used him as a spot-up shooter. His defense wasn’t much better. Porzingis always struggled to get to his rotations, leading to many wide open Clippers’ shots.

It’s not an exaggeration to say this is one of the worst playoff performances by a player on a maximum contract in NBA history. If Porzingis was swapped for any other player making the same amount of money, the Mavericks would have easily won this series. 

Coming so close to the upset without Porzingis being a factor is a huge credit to Doncic, Carlisle, and the rest of the Mavericks’ limited roster. However, Dallas needs to make a decision on Porzingis this offseason. Do they hope his first full non-injured offseason since 2017 will improve his play next season? Or does the front office trade Porzingis at an all time low value to move off his contract?

These are the kinds of questions Dallas has to answer after yet another first-round exit.