Dončić leads Mavericks to 3-2 series lead over Clippers

Photo of Dončić in the Mavericks vs. Clippers.

Luka Dončić faced the dual challenge of a knee sprain and illness, yet he and the Mavericks managed to deliver a significant blow to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night. Game 5 was of utmost importance in what has been one of the most fiercely contested series of the NBA playoffs’ first round.

The Mavericks adopted a relaxed style of play, establishing a commanding 25-point lead in the third quarter and cruising to an impressive 123-93 victory over the Clippers at Arena. With a 3-2 lead in the series, the Mavericks now occupy a favorable position, given that teams in similar circumstances advance to the next round 84 percent of the time (288-55).

However, the Mavericks must bear in mind their past experience from three years ago when they secured a Game 5 win in LA against the Clippers to take a 3-2 lead, only to falter in Games 6 and 7, ultimately losing the series. Nevertheless, the Mavericks’ focus remains on the present. They aim to land the decisive blow on Friday at American Airlines Center (8:30 p.m.).

With Dončić showcasing resilience against concerns about his knee and respiratory issues, the Mavericks ride the wave of momentum. Dončić himself made a significant contribution with 35 points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds in Game 5. For him, it all came down to mental strength.

“I’m trying not to dwell on the injury or the cold,” he explained. “My focus is solely on setting the tone out there. The playoffs are filled with adrenaline and emotion, so you just keep pushing forward. Admittedly, my shooting hasn’t been great. Not even good. Actually, it’s been very bad. But I kept attacking the basket.”

Since sustaining the knee injury in Game 3, Dončić has struggled with his three-point shooting, managing to convert only 6 out of 31 attempts, including 2 out of 8 in Wednesday’s game.

In response, he adjusted his approach, focusing on driving to the basket to seek close-range shots and making key passes, notably to Maxi Kleber, who capitalized by making five three-pointers and scoring 15 points.

Coach Jason Kidd commended Dončić for his leadership despite his knee injury and overall health concerns, highlighting his ability to penetrate, score, and create opportunities for teammates, particularly his effective connection with Maxi for three-pointers.

The Mavericks gradually built a 10-point lead by halftime, with Kleber and Dončić playing pivotal roles.

At the same time, the Mavericks’ defense began to assert itself. By the time they surged to a commanding 101-72 lead with 6:30 remaining, the starters could rest, while the Clippers struggled, shooting just 6-of-30 from beyond the arc.

Kyrie Irving explained that the Mavericks’ defensive identity has strengthened, particularly in the latter part of the regular season, emphasizing the team’s realization of the importance of defense in winning championships.

The Clippers, who had a remarkable shooting performance in Game 4, failed to replicate it on Wednesday against the Mavericks’ robust defense. Coach Kidd elaborated on the defensive strategy, which aimed to make it challenging for the Clippers and limit their three-point attempts, commending the team for effectively contesting shots.

Even when the Clippers attempted to drive into the paint, they encountered resistance, shooting just 37.9 percent for the game. Both James Harden and Paul George struggled from the field.

Guarding the rim effectively with players like Maxi, Dereck Lively II, and Daniel Gafford was crucial, according to Kidd, as it forced the Clippers to attempt shots over taller defenders, leading to contested shots and preventing offensive rebounds.

Dončić echoed the team’s commitment to their defensive strategy, highlighting effective communication, understanding of opponents’ tendencies, and thorough analysis of game footage. Heading into the game, the primary concern was Dončić’s health, including not just the knee sprain from Game 3 but also congestion due to illness.

Although his overall performance has remained consistent, his shooting accuracy in Games 3 and 4 was noticeably below his usual standard. Nevertheless, on Wednesday, he appeared unaffected by his physical ailments. Despite missing an initial three-pointer, Dončić successfully converted three out of his next four midrange attempts.

Discussing his illness, he acknowledged the challenges it presented: “It’s tough. Breathing through the nose becomes difficult, and I find myself needing to blow my nose at every timeout. But, it’s a playoff game.”

Regarding his knee injury, he conceded, “It’s not in great condition.” However, he stressed the adrenaline rush that motivates him to contribute fully to the team’s success: “Once you get going, you’re compelled to do everything in your power to help the team win. So, I simply persevere.”

In contrast to their slow start in Game 4, where they trailed by 31 points in the second quarter, the Mavericks took control of the series, largely due to Dončić’s determination despite his health challenges.

Coach Kidd acknowledged the individual differences in handling such adversities: “Everyone reacts differently. Some can play through flu or colds, while others are more impacted. Dončić is dealing with some injuries, but at this time of the year, everyone faces some degree of physical strain.”

Ultimately, the primary goal remained securing the win: “Today’s game was pivotal,” emphasized Dončić. “Now, we need to win one of the next two games. As we return to Dallas, we anticipate strong support from our fans. However, we haven’t achieved anything significant yet.”


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