Who doesn't love a rematch?
After an epic six-game series in the bubble last year, the LA Clippers will again meet the Dallas Mavericks in the opening round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, where things will look much different.
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- Game 1 - TBD
- Game 2 - TBD
- Game 3 - TBD
- Game 4 - TBD
- Game 5 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 6 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 7 (if necessary) - TBD
Result: Mavericks won 2-1
Best game: March 15, 2021 - Clippers 109, Mavericks 99
Best performance: Luka Doncic (March 17, 2021) - 42 points (16-28 FG, 6-11 3FG), nine assists, six rebounds, three steals, two blocks
The season series between the Mavericks and Clippers got off to quite the start.
Three games into the year, a winless Dallas team travelled to the Staples Center to take on a Kawhi-less LA, which had won its first two games of the season. In a Sunday afternoon, matinee, the Mavericks made their presence felt early and often, taking a 50-point lead (yes, you read that correctly) into the halftime break.
with the biggest halftime lead in NBA history........... 😳#Lexus pic.twitter.com/AjSW4L32nW- x - Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) December 27, 2020
Dallas would earn its first win of the season in dominant fashion, defeating LA 124-73 without Kristaps Porzingis. Doncic finished with a game-high 24 points to go along with nine rebounds and eight assists, while Josh Richardson scored 21 points (on 8-for-13 shooting).
The next two meetings were much more like what we should expect from this playoff series.
In mid-March, the Clippers travelled to North Texas to take on the Mavericks twice in three days for what would end up being a playoff prequel. On the front end of the back-to-back, the two teams went back and forth in the first half before LA kept its distance in the second, holding a double-digit lead at various points.
The Mavericks were able to cut the deficit to four points late in the fourth but failed to score over the final 3:15 of the game, and the Clippers earned a 109-99 win, punctuated by a dagger 3 from Paul George. Kawhi Leonard led the way with 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
📊 22 PTS / 8 REB / 7 AST / 4 STL@kawhileonard scores 20+ points for the 30th time this season. pic.twitter.com/63uJtsHR9c- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) March 16, 2021
When the teams ran it back 48 hours later, it was all about Doncic.
The 22-year-old got after it early, scoring 11 points in the opening frame to set the tone for what was to come. Doncic added another 11 in the second to head into the halftime break with 22 points (on 8-for-15 shooting), four assists and two steals.
He didn't slow down in the second, either.
Dallas' All-Star guard finished the night with 42 points (on 16-for-28 shooting), nine assists, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks in just under 43 minutes of action.
What a stat line from @luka7doncic 📊 #MFFL pic.twitter.com/IpwDbItOtY- x - Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) March 18, 2021
George impressed with 28 points (on 10-for-20 shooting) and Leonard again dished out seven assists to showcase his playmaking ability but the Mavericks outscored the Clippers 28-18 in the final frame to earn a 105-89 victory and take the season series.
Key Storyline: Luka vs. Kawhi
Any time that two of the league's top 10 talents meet in a postseason series, it's hard to focus on much else. That it's happening for the second consecutive year only adds fuel to fire, notching up the intrigue between the two.
The numbers from last year's six-game series are actually ridiculous.
At 21, Doncic put forth one of the most memorable playoff debuts in NBA history, immortalized in Game 4, where he capped off a 43-point, 17-rebound, 13-assist triple-double with a game-winning step-back 3 at the buzzer.
All on a bum ankle.
Since then, Doncic has only gotten better, so there's no telling what he has in store for an encore.
As one of the league's best perimeter defenders, Leonard is one of a number of players that will make life difficult for Doncic, in addition to George and Marcus Morris. Offensively, well, we know what Leonard brings to the table.
He, too, has gotten better this season.
In addition to averaging an efficient 24.8 points on .512/.398/.885 shooting splits, Leonard finished the season averaging a career-best 5.2 assists per contest. Leonard's average of 7.0 assists over two meetings with the Mavericks this season is more than he averaged against any other team he faced more than once.
We know what Kawhi can do as a scorer and defender, but his playmaking could prove to be yet another key to this upcoming series.
Three Players to Watch
Last postseason was less-than-ideal for the seven-time All-Star but the 2021 playoffs spell an opportunity for redemption.
After starting off extremely hot, George's play tapered off some but he still finished the regular season averaging 23.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists while shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from 3-point range.
An efficient scoring series from George would set LA apart, as Dallas won't likely have the offensive firepower to combat efficient scoring from both him and Leonard. As mentioned above, George is another defender that can spend time making life difficult for Doncic, as well, so his two-way prowess will be put to the test.
George enters the series with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, keep an eye on how he performs because of it.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Dallas is going to need offence and it's going to need shooting.
Hardaway has to be the guy.
As a starter during the final eight games of the 2020-21 regular season, Hardaway averaged 21.5 points per game while shooting 51.8 percent from the field, 45.2 percent from deep and 87.5 percent from the charity stripe. Within that stretch, Hardaway knocked down 10 triples to finish with 36 points against his hometown Miami Heat and scored 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting just two nights later against the Brooklyn Nets.
Although Jalen Brunson (71 assists) came somewhat close, no one assisted Hardaway more than Doncic this year (95 assists). Luka's elite playmaking skills must be rewarded with converted offensive opportunities in order for Dallas to have a chance.
"What if Porzingis didn't get hurt last year?"
It's a question that many have wondered - myself included - after Porzingis was limited to just three games in last year's series between the Clippers and Mavericks. In those three games, Porzingis was a problem, averaging 23.7 points and 8.7 rebounds on .525/.529/.870 shooting splits.
We remember that Porzingis missed the final three games of the series due to a knee injury but it's easy to forget that he was ejected early in the second half of Game 1 while the Mavericks held a five-point lead. If he had played in that full game, his series numbers would have been even crazier and the outlook of the series could have been much different.
If Porzingis is healthy, he can be a major difference-maker. It's a big if, however, as he missed seven games before playing in the Mavs' last three of the 2020-21 regular season. LA has Serge Ibaka to defend Porzingis, but even Ibaka has battled health issues all year.
He might not be enough.
Picks and Predictions
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Clippers in six
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): Mavericks in seven
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Clippers in five
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Clippers in six
Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): Clippers in six
Kane Pitman (@KanePitman): Clippers in six
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