How could the Dallas Mavericks counter the LA Clippers in Game 5?
It took back-to-back home losses in humiliating fashion, but the LA Clippers finally have Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks figured out. Since the 30-11 deficit at the beginning of Game 3, they’ve held the Mavericks to just 121 points total in 121 Luka possessions. Pretty impressive stuff.
As outlined here, leaning all-in on small-ball from the jump has paid dividends, while the boneheaded mistakes and lapses in communication have mostly dissipated.
In Game 4, Ty Lue’s group continued to add layers to the defense; thwarting the Luka show as we’ve never witnessed. They’re creeping off the non-Tim Hardaway Jr. role players even further and trusting the back-side rotations. The switches are right out of a coach’s manual. Nicolas Batum is experiencing his Boris Diaw moment a half-decade later.
More from Sir Charles In Charge
- Dillon Brooks proved his value to Houston Rockets in the 2023 FIBA World Cup
- NBA Trade Rumors: 1 Player from each team most likely to be traded in-season
- Golden State Warriors: Buy or sell Chris Paul being a day 1 starter
- Does Christian Wood make the Los Angeles Lakers a legit contender?
- NBA Power Rankings: Tiering all 30 projected starting point guards for 2023-24
How could the Dallas Mavericks counter the LA Clippers?
So what options do the Mavericks have left?
- Making a lineup change
Fan-favorite Boban Marjanovic gave Dallas a brief spark off the bench on Monday night. In theory, he could wreak havoc down low and force Lue to insert Zubac, as we saw in the first quarter.
However, I’m pretty dubious about this as a potential solution. Despite his imposing presence, Boban actually isn’t a great pick-and-roll partner with Doncic, just because he’s too slow to get downhill as a roller. The “twin towers” look with Porzingis would limit the spacing.
The Clippers welcome any KP post-up with open arms, regardless of the match-up. And that’s not even mentioning the defensive element to the Boban equation.
Breaking up the Kleber-Porzingis frontcourt has its drawbacks as well, without offering much upside. For one, the Doncic/Kleber/Porzingis trio lit it up this year (124.9 Offensive Rating). The problem with benching either is that the only replacements (Jalen Brunson, Josh Richardson, or maybe Trey Burke) are actually less threatening catch-and-shoot weapons.
Perhaps Brunson could offer more dynamism as a secondary ball-handler, though the Clippers would likely pick on him on the other end. It turns out this Mavericks’ roster isn’t that good.
- Schematic adjustments
Rick Carlisle will always come with counters, here’s a few wrinkles he could unleash:
1. Get creative with the screening
This Dallas team has plenty of tricks to spring guys for open looks. Watch here in Game 3 as Dorian Finney-Smith disguises the direction of the pick until the last possible second, which necessities the Reggie Jackson switch.
That’s how they won a thriller against the Wizards back on May 1. The Mavericks could explore doing this with a more potent ball-handler like Hardaway and have him roll into empty space rather than popping. They could also slip more screens, particularly off-ball. Carlisle called an ATO set where Porzingis does that, though the Clippers expertly snuffed it out.
2. More off-ball cutting
The supporting cast can’t merely be passive bystanders when the Clippers load up on Luka. As Dwyane Wade demonstrated back in the day, cutting can create gravity, too. I’d expect to see more of this when L.A. keeps flooding the strong side.
3. Crash the offensive glass
Another way to make teams pay for ditching the center: the lost art of offensive rebounding. This is where Boban could make his impact. Per Cleaning the Glass, Dallas rebounded 31.2% of its own misses with the Serbian on the court. Meanwhile, the Clippers rarely push the ball in transition; this series has been played at a snail’s pace.
It would be a huge contrast from Carlisle’s M.O., but I could see the Mavericks attempting to leverage their size in this manner – particularly if Lue continues to roll out the three-guard lineup.
4. Play Luka Doncic off the ball
This aspect of Doncic’s game has largely vanished, except in fits and spurts. Now that the Clippers have been comfortable granting smaller guards (non-Patrick Beverley division) the Luka assignment, scampering off-ball could help him get deep post position. And with the attention that he garners, I’m sure that he could be an effective screener.
Oh well, there’s only one Stephen Curry. Luka’s burden is just too heavy, nor is his conditioning/endurance at that level.
5. Push the pace
The Clippers’ transition defense is still, to be kind…wobbly. Even in the Game 4 clinic, the inexplicable blunders were present. Per Cleaning the Glass, Dallas added 9.1 points per 100 possessions through transition in the first two games, while that number dropped to -2.4 per 100 possessions in the last two. It starts with getting stops of course, but perhaps the Mavericks will play freer and with more abandoned at Staples Center in Game 5.
- Just play better
It sounds simple, but that’s often what this league boils down to. The Mavericks have to hope the two days of rest does wonders for Luka Doncic’s ailing neck, and that he (and his teammates) converts on the same jump shots that he was canning earlier.