It’s official now, at least for a few hours.
The chaos that began with both No. 1 seeds falling on Tuesday was extended for another night on the NBA campus at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
Both the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks suffered Game 1 losses Tuesday, the Lakers losing to Portland and the Bucks to the Orlando Magic. The Clippers, the third of the big three favorites, as deep and versatile as any team in the bubble, finally succumbed to the upset vibes as well.
If Tuesday’s upsets put a legitimate scare into the higher seeds, the Clippers losing the way they did gives these unprecedented playoffs a wide open, anyone-can-win-it-all feel.
The seasoned Clippers boast a two-time Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard, veteran stars with extensive playoff experience like Paul George and they still couldn’t solve a Mavericks team whose two best players — Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis — are getting their first taste of the postseason.
“They are a good team and it just goes to show you the West is tough,” George said. “Eight seed just beat the one seed yesterday. So it tells you, the West is tough. It’s a tough conference. Any given night, any team, especially here, can win. And we full on seen that. So it’s no surprise. What you have to do is come to play. And tonight was their night.”
We’re toes deep into uncharted waters and no one, not even the juggernauts from before the nearly five-month shutdown of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic, is completely safe.
The Mavericks executed the most efficient offense in NBA history to perfection at times Wednesday night, even with Doncic battling foul trouble throughout. He sat for more than seven minutes of the fourth quarter after picking up his fifth foul … and the Mavericks extended the lead without him on the floor.
It was the Dallas bench — Trey Burke (16 points), Seth Curry (15), Boban Marjanovic (13) and Delon Wright (3) in particular — that proved to be the biggest difference. Their 47 points, which included clutch playmaking and shot-taking, went a long way in helping sustain the momentum engineered by Doncic, Porzingis and the starting unit.
“We came into this game ready,” Porzingis said. “We jumped into the game right away and obviously there were a lot of runs and a lot of things happening and a lot of emotions throughout the game. But I felt like we did a pretty good job keeping our composure throughout the game and playing our basketball and at the end we came up with the win”
He at least finished this game on the court. Porzingis had been ejected in the third quarter of Game 1 with two technical fouls. Winning with Doncic’s fourth-quarter minutes limited due to that foul trouble is the sort of confidence booster the Mavericks needed.
“A lot of guys stepped up,” Porzingis said. “Boban [Marjanović] played great, Trey [Burke] was really good today, Tim [Hardaway Jr.] and a lot of guys stepped up and gave us a lot of energy. Doe Doe [Dorian Finney-Smith] hit some big shots and whenever Luka wasn’t on the court there were a lot of guys that could step up and play well and give us something.
“Offense is one thing, but I feel like we made a step forward defensively in terms of our poise throughout the game and those might be even more important than the rest of the stuff. For us as a young team, I feel like we’re heading in the right direction. And this was just a win to show us that we’re capable of doing these things.”
They’ve certainly got the Clippers’ attention now, after two tough games.
“They were just looking us in the eye and and taking us off the dribble and playing draw and kick basketball,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “And they played together. They moved the ball, you know, and I thought that stood out. I think at halftime we had seven assists, our starters had two assists at halftime. I think we ended up with four assists from our starters … that’s not how we’ve played all year. And if we play like that we can’t win.”
There were all sort of role reversals in this game.
A Mavericks team that sported a 2-11 record in games decided by three points or less during the regular season — worst in the league — never let it get that close Wednesday night. The Clippers got the lead down to 10 points in the final four minutes of Game 2, but that was the best they could do.
“Give them guys credit, they played hard tonight,” Leonard said. “They’re the reason why we didn’t come back. They knocked down big shots at the right times.”
They did it with and without Doncic in the mix, which was perhaps most telling.
Not that Doncic didn’t have yet another brilliant night. He scored 28 points in just 28 minutes, finishing his second playoff game with another milestone. He surpassed Kareem-Abdul Jabbar for second behind George Mikan for the most points scored (70) in his first two playoff games).
Doncic’s 42 points in Game 1 broke a 41-year-old for the most points scored in a playoff debut. And he’s the first player to have 70 points, 15 or more rebounds and 15 or more assists in his first two career playoff games.
The records are nice, but Doncic said the only thing that matters is the Mavericks getting a win and evening the series at 1-1 with Game 3 on Friday night (9 ET; TNT, TNT OT).
He’s as confident now as he was after the Game 1 loss that the Mavericks, like every upset-minded upstart in the bubble, can finish what they’ve started.
“In any series we’re in, we are going to go in believing we can win,” Doncic said. “If you don’t believe it, you’re not supposed to be here. You have to believe it every time.”
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