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    Swanson: Clippers in trouble entering Game 6 vs. Mavericks
    • May 2, 2024

    LOS ANGELES — There’s blood in the water, and Luka Doncic and his gang of sharks can smell it.

    That isn’t to say that the fourth-seeded Clippers – who drowned in a big moment on Wednesday night, falling behind 3-2 in their first-round playoff series against the fifth-seeded Dallas Mavericks after no-showing in a 123-93 Game 5 loss – can’t snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

    They could. They’re capable of extending the series to a seventh game, of giving themselves at least one more game at Arena before the big move to the Intuit Dome in Inglewood.

    And, who knows, maybe the dangerous proposition of it being one and done will get the Clippers swimming with some actual urgency?

    But also, maybe not.

    In this series, there’s one team you can count on to be up for a fight, and there’s one you can’t count on for anything.

    The Mavericks are the former, having twice rallied from substantial deficits to make games they ultimately lost real interesting.

    They were down by 29 points in Game 1 in L.A., but they were game to keep whittling, getting the deficit down to 10. And on Sunday in Dallas, they fell behind by 31 points and came all the way back, taking the lead in the fourth quarter before James Harden and Paul George were able to out-duel Kyrie Irving down the stretch to win the game, 116-111, and square the series, 2-2.

    The Clippers, meanwhile, when they’ve fallen behind, have fallen off, unable or unwilling to muster similar effort against a snarling, jawing Mavericks team that’s very much on the hunt. A team that’s on the verge now of beating the Clippers for the first time in three first-round meetings in Doncic’s otherwise decorated Dallas tenure.

    The Clippers’ 11-point loss in Game 3 wasn’t as close as the score indicated and, from the second quarter on, never in question. And then there was Wednesday’s forgettable 30-point loss, the largest final deficit in Clippers’ postseason history.

    The Mavericks also handed the Clippers their largest loss in franchise history when they beat them by 51 points late in 2020, but the stakes were so much lower in that early-season game, two days after Christmas, than they were on Wednesday. The Clippers could have secured the inside track for a second-round playoff berth, but instead they sent their fans streaming for the exits with six minutes to play.

    More than a few of those folks were leaving a game early for the first time, but they were so disgusted they preferred to pack up rather than stick around for what devolved into a stay-ready game between backups.

    Not that home-court advantage matters for much when these teams tussle; the host team is 3-9 in their past 12 playoff games against each other, dating to their seven-game series in 2021 – an experience that was on the Clippers’ minds after Wednesday’s debacle.

    Coach Tyronn Lue mentioned it, as did George and Ivica Zubac, who said, “We’ve been here before. A few years ago we were down 3-2 going to Dallas. Won Game 6. Went back home and won Game 7. So, we’ve been here before. We know what we gotta do.”

    Sure. All they need is for someone to go off for 45 points, maybe make 18 of his 25 shot attempts, including 5 for 9 from 3-point range. Have someone else chip in with 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting. That was all it took for the Clippers to win Game 6 and force Game 7 in 2021.

    There’s a problem, though. Kawhi Leonard – out indefinitely with right knee inflammation – doesn’t figure to be available for a 45-point encore Friday in Dallas. And Reggie Jackson, who delivered one of his classic Mr. June performances with those 25 points that night, now plays for the Denver Nuggets.

    That leaves it up to George and James Harden, who scored 33 points apiece in Sunday’s win but combined for a paltry 22 on Wednesday.

    With history as our guide, we knew Harden was due for a stinker, and he delivered, with just seven points on 2-of-12 shooting, including 1-for-7 from deep. George reverted to the complacent version of himself, finishing with 15 points on 4-for-13 shooting.

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    We don’t know how Harden will approach Friday’s must-win affair because he left Wednesday without talking to reporters. George, though, was characteristically philosophical postgame – and not the noticeably Peeved P he was during and after Sunday’s game. He said Wednesday he won’t expect to feel pressure going into Game 6: “If you fail you fail, but you just give it all you have and live with the results.”

    The key then will be in the giving it all he has – which has to be more than he gave Wednesday.

    “Tonight we were just slow,” said Zubac, the Clippers’ 7-foot center who started strong and finished with 15 points, making seven of his eight shots (all but one of which came before halftime). “I don’t think it was fatigue. Or anything they did. We weren’t ready for this game.

    “You gotta come out and compete. Losing by 30 is not good.”

    But maybe it’ll be a good wake-up call? Or maybe it’ll be a good game to flush from their memories?

    Just as likely, it will go down as a good sign of what was to come from a Mavericks team that’s circling, hungry and ready, this time, to go in for the kill.

    ​ Orange County Register