With history on their side and the largest crowd attendance (18,234) of the 2021 NBA season, the Dallas Mavericks set themselves up for its first playoff series win since winning the championship in 2011. However, due to a historic Kawhi Leonard scoring performance and a few costly miscues, the Mavericks and Clippers will faceoff in Game 7.
Following Rick Carlisle’s shocking starting lineup adjustment to insert Boban Marjanovic in game five, Friday’s night was more of the same. Both the Clippers and Mavericks kept the same starting lineup from the previous game.
While an ejection or a legitimate scuffle hasn’t occurred, the Mavericks-Clippers series is easily the most intense of the first round. In such a pressure-filled environment, every adjustment between possessions matters. Known for elite-level in-game playoff adjustments, Carlisle’s fourth-quarter rotation decisions negatively affected the Mavericks’ chances to win game 6.
Now, without fully blaming Carlisle, a few player-influenced decisions also rendered Dallas’s game 6 efforts futile. In light of the Los Angles Lakers now out of the playoff picture, both teams must capitalize on their improved chances to reach the NBA Finals.
In a win-or-go-home scenario for both franchises, the margin for error lessens. Going by the series’ trend of home teams losing every game, recent history benefits the Mavericks. However, perhaps the Clippers shed its pitiful game 7 loss versus the Denver Nuggets.
With the reality of reaching the conference semis in the balance, franchise history favors the 2020-2021 Mavericks.
The Mavericks have never lost a series in which they led 3-2 (8-0 all-time). Dallas has won 3 straight Game 6s when leading a series 3-2.
The last such series to go 7 games was the 2006 Conference Semifinals (4 seed Mavericks vs 1 seed Spurs). pic.twitter.com/ftOwc12ztL
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 4, 2021
Considering the Dallas Mavericks nearly won the series despite a 45-point explosion from Kawhi Leonard, any counterattack inches the Mavericks closer to avenging its 2020 playoff loss to the Clippers.
Tweaking Boban Marjanovich possessions
Game 5 saw the Mavericks bait the Clippers’ role players into perimeter shots by utilizing a zone defense. In addition to the success stemming from the 2-3 zone, Marjanovich’s presence mucked things up in the paint.
Dallas repeated the strategy from the previous contest in game 6. Measuring the pros and cons, it’s evident the 7’3 center presented the Mavericks’ offense with a few issues. While in the paint, Marjanovich easily saw shots at the rim. However, with his back to the basket above the free-throw line, the disadvantage became apparent.
Dallas can’t afford for Marjanovich to create anything on the perimeter. In his 17 minutes, although he registered a +5 in the plus-minus category, hot hand Tim Hardaway Jr left empty-handed on a few possessions quarter-backed by No.51.
Again, in a regular-season contest, a few possessions don’t stand as a game-breaking cost. However, such mistakes don’t bode well versus a team such as the Clippers. The same team capable of creating a transition basket from sloppy passes.
Carlisle placing Marjanovic in the restricted area plays to the counter-attack for Tyronn Lue’s small-ball strategy. Marjanovic post-ups ranked third-highest in the Mavericks offensive play types in terms of occurrence, per Instat’s tracking data. Such a stat doesn’t translate to playoff victories.
Marjanovic scored only one basket in the post, out of six possessions, with one effort ending at the free throw line.
Tighten the rotation
Heading into the 2021 postseason, injury reports caused concern for Maxi Kleber’s chances to suit up versus the Clippers. Aside from his 13-point performance in game 2, he renders as a net-negative with a disappointing -3.7 mark. Kleber can’t play fourth-quarter minutes in game 7 due to his hesitant shooting.
Despite averaging an elite 44 percent from deep in the series, game 6 showcased Kleber at his worst. On his four shot attempts, Kleber only attempted one from distance. Seemingly in his head, the German-born forward chased himself into getting blocked on drives to the rim.
Why would a player shooting such a remarkable percentage run away from an advantageous spot on the floor? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where Kleber went wrong, but on the outside looking in, it appears like a mental block.
No matter the reason for Kleber’s game 6 disappearance, margin for error can’t be sacrificed due to his shortcomings. Any chance for a good look against such a defensively skilled Clippers squad must see it through with no hesitation.
Luka Doncic, although seemingly a demigod averaging 34 points on 40 percent 3-point shooting, tires in the fourth quarter. If a player such as Kleber or Willie Cauley-Stein negates the Mavericks’ chances, then take them out of the rotation for significant minutes.
Noting Doncic’s dip in shooting percentage, any player hesitating to alleviate the taxing offensive load must not play in the fourth where Dallas’ superstar percentages fall.
Luka Doncic vs Clippers by quarter
1Q: 66 PTS, 51 FG%, 43 3P%
2Q: 61 PTS, 61 FG%, 58 3P%
3Q: 48 PTS, 46 FG%, 38 3P%
4Q: 29 PTS, 31 FG%, 25 3P% pic.twitter.com/hXPMSnRrvY
— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 5, 2021
Aside from Doncic’s shooting numbers, it’s the Mavericks’ overall 3-point shooting that stands as the reason they have a chance at redemption. But, again, tighten the rotation to avoid dry spells or transition baskets from the Clippers’ defensive plays.
Go away from Dorian Finney-Smith the creator
I don’t want to live in a world where a playoff team insists on Dorian Finney-Smith creating off the dribble. Yet, Dallas forced the issue to Finney-Smith at an alarming rate. To clarify the onus of said strategy, Doncic passed the ball to Finney-Smith on two out of three possessions, resulting in a turnover.
Unless it’s a shot or drive straight to the rim, encouraging Finney-Smith to dribble spells trouble for the Mavericks. Dallas must enforce their undrafted gem to shoot the 3-ball. Typically, role players underperform on the road. On the contrary, Finney-Smith shoots a miraculous 46 percent from deep in Los Angeles this series.
Keeping Finney-Smith away from scenarios in which he must create will avoid Clippers’ dangerous transition offense. Doncic, as the alpha and omega of the Mavericks’ offense, has the skeleton key for just about any offensive sequence.
It’s imperative Dallas treats every offensive possession as its last, considering the Clippers’ late-game run from game 6. Again, if an off-the-dribble Finney-Smith possession manifests, consider the Clippers the victor.
Creating offense for Kristaps Porzingis
It’s no secret the Dallas Mavericks will again shop Kristaps Porzingis, regardless of the series outcome. However, with the season on the line, seven shot attempts from their 7’3 pseudo unicorn in game 6 is an unacceptable statistic.
Using Porzingis as a decoy is useful, but only when he doesn’t disappear from the offense for quarters at a time. At this point in the series, the once-coined unicorn nickname has lost all its merit. Now, with how Dallas utilizes Porzingis and his lack of post positioning, his numbers indicate he’s a finisher.
Without Doncic’s elite playmaking abilities, Porzingis can’t consistently find the ball in the basket. The game plan is evident in Porzingis’ relegation to the corner. Porzingis falling out of action falls mainly on Carlisle. However, players not named Doncic must improve on finding Porzingis for potential baskets.
Looking at NBA’s tracking data, one stat stands out as a red flag: Only seven percent of his offense comes unassisted. Furthermore, Doncic recorded 11 assists from Porzingis’ shot attempts. The second most on the Porzingis connections is, oddly enough, Hardaway Jr.
Considering their max-money 2019 free agent can’t create offense for himself, Dallas has to incorporated him in actions closer to the basket or utilize him in pick-and-pop scenarios. Two of his three converted attempts on dunks from cutting to the basket. If Porzingis doesn’t see touch the ball more possessions on offense, the Clippers will win game 7.
Despite the inevitable future of Porzingis as a Maverick, Dallas gains nothing by allowing Porzingis to remain idle in the offense.
All stats appear courtesy of NBA.com/stats and Instatsport.com