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Apr 22, 2024 9:13 pm

Eyeing 2-0 lead, Clippers try to keep Mavericks off balance

Zubac

The Los Angeles Clippers turned a disappointing situation into their advantage, offering a completely new look without Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series.

The Clippers will try to keep the surprises coming against the visiting Dallas Mavericks in Game 2 on Tuesday, two days after Los Angeles took a 29-point third-quarter lead and rolled home to a 109-97 victory for a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The No. 4 seed Clippers were playing in their ninth consecutive game without Leonard because of knee tendonitis and tried something new by running the offense through Ivica Zubac early in the game. The big man ended the day with a playoff career-high 20 points to go along with 15 rebounds.

James Harden scored 28 points on 6-of-11 shooting from 3-point range for Los Angeles, and Paul George added 22 points while going 4-of-12 from deep.

“You can’t show your hand on everything during the regular season and so you have to have some different things for the playoffs,” said Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue, who will reassess Leonard’s availability ahead of Game 2. “You have to be willing to pull it out when the time is right.”

The Mavericks took note.

“It kind of threw us for a little bit of a loop when they started off the game with him posting up,” Dallas’ Kyrie Irving said of Zubac. “We just have to make adjustments, keep him off the offensive glass and make it tough on the pick-and-rolls. Just match his energy.”

Zubac had 12 points and 10 rebounds in the first half alone as Los Angeles set the tone, especially on defense. The Mavericks were held to eight second-quarter points and just 30 in the first half.

It was the least amount of points the Clippers have given up in any half of a playoff game, while it was the lowest-scoring first half in Mavericks postseason history.

“I know we’re a great defensive team and I have to be one of the leaders out there on the defensive end,” Zubac said. “That is something I have been doing for this team for a little bit. … Luka (Doncic), Kyrie, they’re going to make tough shots but we have to make it harder for them.”

Zubac held Daniel Gafford to three points with no rebounds, although the Dallas big man did spend some time in the locker room in the second quarter after he rolled his left ankle. Gafford was limited to 14 minutes.

Doncic led Dallas with 33 points and 13 rebounds, while Irving had 31 points, but neither was very effective in the first half as they combined to shoot 5-of-19 from the floor (26.3 percent) and 1-of-10 from 3-point range.

P.J. Washington had 11 points for the Mavericks, but no other Dallas player scored more than six as the team shot 38.8 percent from the floor and 30.3 percent from the 3-point line.

“I thought we did a great job of keeping them, in that second quarter, to 22 points,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “(But) we couldn’t throw it in the ocean. We missed layups, free throws, wide-open shots. But to hold a team that talented to 22 points is a positive.”

The Clippers are trying to take down the Mavericks in the playoffs for the third time in five seasons after winning a first-round series in both 2020 and 2021.

–Field Level Media

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