2021 Playoffs: West First Round | Clippers vs. Mavericks

Fast starts, Luka Doncic's decisions fuel Mavs' Game 1 upset

The Mavericks' 22-year-old star becomes the youngest player to log a playoff triple-double on the road, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Luka Doncic scored 31 points Saturday, and still managed to make all the right plays when jammed by the Clippers defense.

Whether psychological or merely perceived, fast starts for the Dallas Mavericks this season seem synonymous with success.

Dallas entered the postseason with a regular-season record of 27-0 when outscoring opponents in the first quarter. On Saturday, they finished the opening 12 minutes up 33-30 on the Clippers, thanks to Luka Doncic’s 12 points and four assists to start Game 1 of this best-of-seven series.

Dallas’ lightning-quick start helped it to build a 12-point advantage, which required the Clippers to expend energy simply to keep the game from getting away. By the final whistle, Doncic registered a third career postseason triple-double (31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists), and the Mavericks, a 113-103 road victory over the LA Clippers at Staples Center.

Despite that flawless record during the regular season when leading after the opening quarter, the Mavericks like to downplay the significance of their fast starts. But coach Rick Carlisle has admitted that consistently slow starts are what often lead to losing efforts. So, it makes sense for Dallas to try to continue the trend of seizing the advantage after the first quarter in Game 2, which is set for Tuesday (7:30 ET; TNT). The Clippers could better their chances for capturing their first win of this series by breaking up the Mavericks’ penchant for early leads.

Keep in mind that Dallas finished the regular season at 42-30, which means it dipped to 15-30 in games the team finished the opening frame either tied or trailing.

That’s just one takeaway from the opening game of this series that LA might look to improve upon in Game 2.

Here are three more:

1) Defending Doncic

Luka Doncic scored 31 points to lead the Mavericks to their Game One victory.

To slow down Doncic, the Clippers deployed several strategies; most of them designed to take the ball out of his hands. Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley, Paul George and Marcus Morris all tried guarding Doncic, with varying levels of success.

Early on, LA tried to switch everything defensively. Nearly every time Clippers big man Ivica Zubac switched onto Doncic, the 22-year-old took advantage of the matchup, draining a couple of stepback 3-pointers.

The strategy of trying to take the ball out of Doncic’s hands in Game 1 yielded two problems for the Clippers: 1) Doncic made the right play most of the time, finding the open shooters out on the wing;  2) Those shooters consistently knocked down shots. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith combined for 39 points, shooting 15-for-22 from the field and 9-for-14 from deep.

If you’re the Clippers, it’s worth it to see if Hardaway, Finney-Smith and the rest of Dallas’ supporting cast can do it again in Game 2.

2) Secondary stars

Doncic and Leonard carried their respective teams. Doncic shot 11-for-24 from the floor and 5-for-11 from range on the way to his 31 points, while Leonard led the Clippers with 26.

It’s secondary stars Kristaps Porzingis and Paul George who need to step up, though.

Brilliant performances from Hardaway and Finney-Smith masked an ugly night for Porzingis, who contributed 14 points on 4-for-13 shooting from the field (1-5 3Ps). George, meanwhile, started out 1-for-7 in the first half (7 points), before picking up the production in the second half to finish with 23 points. The encouraging part of George’s performance is he remained aggressive, despite the shots not falling.

After the game, Clippers coach Ty Lue shouldered some of the blame for George not receiving better looks in the first half, which would have helped the forward settle into a rhythm.

3) Winning time

They've lost homecourt advantage and couldn't slow Luka Doncic. What can LA do to avoid falling into a 2-0 hole?

With 6:08 left to play Rajon Rondo hit a free throw to give LA a 3-point lead (98-95), but everything collapsed from that point on for the Clippers. Dallas outscored LA, 18-5, draining 56% from the field, 2-for-4 from 3-point range and 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. Over that same span, the Clippers managed just 5 points on 2-for-12 from the field, while missing all seven of their attempts from 3-point range and connecting on just 1-for-4 from the free-throw line.

George scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, but the Clippers got just 3 points from Leonard. That last 6:08 was when the Clippers needed their star duo the most. They didn’t show up.

Credit the Mavericks defense for securing stops down the stretch, but even George admitted after the game the Clippers need to perform better in that department.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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