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Never seen a game like that before
The down-and-out Clippers turn their narrative on its head
The one good thing about the Clippers going down 2-0 to the Mavericks — and let’s be clear, I fully expected them to eat shit the rest of the way — was that it was now impossible for them to blow a 3-1 lead. And I’m still not sure why the Clippers begged to face Luka Doncic in the first round, when they clearly had no idea at that point how they were going to defend him.
But after yesterday’s game, the biggest playoff stomping in Clipper history, the Congratulations, You Played Yourself version of the team has to be retired. That’s right. With a tied first-round series against a team they were widely favored to beat, the Clippers are now going to the NBA Finals. It’s very simple and undeniable: this team is now inevitable. There is no level of concern.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a playoff game like that; given the circumstance, I’m not sure it’s ever happened: the favored team dropping the first set at home, taking Game 3 on the road, and then delivering a Game 4 beatdown that makes a crowd of 17,761 quieter than the NBA Bubble. The win itself had only happened times five previously.
Out of those five, the only other real Game 4 blowout was a 103-81 Spurs win in 1995. (Sam Cassell went for 30 and 12 off the bench as the Rockets flipped the script in Game 5, then closed out the series the next game.)
Even aside from that, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a playoff game like this one. The second half looked like the Mavericks were in a trance. The Clippers the last 18 minutes of the game running a prevent offense and it didn’t matter. Anytime the Mavs scored — and they really basically never scored — Kawhi would just jog back the other way and plop the ball in the basket. Maxi Kleber airballed an open three. Rondo did the classic Rondo layup. Then Kawhi tried the classic Rondo layup. It wasn’t quite like an exhibition game, because the stars stayed in for most of it. It was nothing like a playoff game — the crowd didn’t get excited or even mad about anything. The last 20 minutes of the game carried a distinct “Are we done here?” vibe. The Clippers weren’t exactly lighting it up. It did look like they were playing against a practice squad, but they only made 13 of their 33 attempts from behind the arc, at 39% a tick below their season average and certainly nothing like the Mavs in the series’ first three games. It was the kind of mid-March regular season doldrums game that the 213hoops recapper posts within 45 seconds and no one remembers after that.
But the stakes were, of course, rather high, and if the Mavericks looking completely deep-sixed reminded you of the Clippers in Game 5s and Game 6s of yore, you wouldn’t be alone. The Mavs landed a helluva punch in the first two games. Paul George said, “There’s no level of concern.” Basically the same thing he said after Game 6 last year against the Nuggets. Everyone got their jokes off. The Mavericks raced out to a 30-11 lead in Game 3. The series was over. And…then the Clippers came to life.
What seems new about Games 3 and 4 is the way Kawhi and PG are playing off each other. For two whole regular seasons there has not been a clear and obvious benefit to having those 2 guys on the court together besides like, them both being really fucking good (i.e., taking turns when both guys are elite scorers is pretty good offense). This year we saw PG restored to his former levels of offensive dominance and Kawhi was Kawhi. But creating for each other has never really been part of the package until, maybe, now?
It’s possible this has been opened up by the smaller lineups. Here was a neat little set piece to catch the Mavericks napping.
This complete turnaround warrants a NARRATIVE REVISION. The Clippers are built different, they are inevitable, the Mavs let them off the hook, Ty Lue is a genius for tanking, and, of course, it makes complete sense for the Clippers to build a new arena in Inglewood. More on that soon. Clips in 6. Bring on the Jazz.