Even before they began their Western Conference first-round series, the Dallas Mavericks were a long shot to get past the Los Angeles Clippers.
Injuries and ejections early in the best-of-seven series made the road even more difficult, but the Mavericks have overcome those obstacles to twice even the series heading into Game 5 on Tuesday night near Orlando.
Despite playing on a tender left ankle, Dallas forward Luka Doncic put the Mavericks on his shoulders in Game 4 on Sunday and lifted them to victory against second-seeded Los Angeles. He led them back from a 21-point first-half deficit and later hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the overtime buzzer in the 135-133 victory.
The 21-year-old from Slovenia finished with 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists, becoming the youngest player in NBA history with a 40-point triple-double during the playoffs.
His buzzer beater, combined with his stat line and the physical limitations caused by the ankle injury that forced him out late in the Game 3 loss, has made Doncic one of the most talked about players since the season restarted.
“He’s got such a great heart,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “Guys like him, Jason Kidd, Larry Bird, these kinds of guys, are such great competitors. Not much will keep them from competing. They’re from the same fabric in terms of their ability to impact the game in unique forms. It’s not just about putting the ball in the basket. It’s about giving teammates confidence.”
Doncic not only needed to shake off his sore ankle and play in Game 4 to give the Mavericks a chance to even the series, but he had to pick up the slack for 7-foot-3 center Kristaps Porzingis, who sat out with a sore right knee.
Porzingis, who averaged 20.4 points and 9.5 rebounds during the regular season, had an MRI following the game on Sunday and the results were negative. He has been ruled out for Game 5.
The Clippers likely would be on the verge of closing out the series or already waiting for their next opponent if star forward Paul George had played to expectations, especially in the past three games.
He’s shooting 21.3 percent from the floor in those three games, including 4-for-25 from 3-point range.
George averaged 21.5 points during the regular season, shooting 43.9 percent from the floor and 41.2 from 3-point distance.
“If I make shots, this series could be a little different, and that’s the obvious,” George said after shooting 3-for-14 in Game 4. “I’m getting looks, getting shots, the floor is open, the defenders aren’t great, but I’m just having a hard time finding the ball through right now.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he’d like to see a better mindset from all his players, calling them “emotionally weak” during Game 4.
“You can see the difference in spirits,” Rivers said. “They make a run, and everybody is excited. They make a run on us, and we cave-in. So that’s on all of us. Me too. I’ve got to get our guys right.”
–Field Level Media