Clippers’ Game 3 Win Snaps Dallas’ Amazing Season-Long Streak

Paul George drives

Getty Paul George dribbles over Willie Cauley-Stein

There was no lack of meaningful or extraordinary numbers that emerged from the Clippers’ frenzied 118-110 comeback win over the Mavericks Friday night in Dallas.

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Most crucial for the Clippers, the number 1 — as in the series is now 2-1 and the Clippers avoided the nightmare scenario of trailing 3-0, a position from which no team in the history of the NBA playoffs has ever recovered. It was also LA’s first postseason victory since September 9, 2020, when they beat the Nuggets to take a 3-1 lead in last season’s second round, only to drop three straight and lose in seven.

There was also the number 4 — as in the total number of shots Kawhi Leonard missed during his 42 minutes of floor time. The two-time Finals MVP, who was already playing out of his mind coming into Game 3, averaging 33.5 points on 53.5% shooting over the first two games, went 13-for-17 on Friday (76.5% in case you were wondering) and sank all seven of his free throw attempts.

Put a four next to Leonard’s miss total and you arrive at 44 — the points scored by Dallas’ 22-year-old phenom Luka Doncic. Similar to the previous two games, but this time in front of 17,000-plus hometown fans, Doncic roared out of the gates, scoring 11 points and dishing out three assists within the first seven minutes and leading the Mavericks to a startling 19-point advantage before most Clippers fans could even locate a barf bag.

That the Clippers managed to shrink Dallas’ lead to just three by the end of the first quarter was statistically improbable to begin with. But the fact that they eventually won, well, that went against one of the NBA’s most impressive numerical feats all season.


An Incredible Streak Ended

Heading into Friday’s matchup, the Mavericks had gone, over the course of the regular season and including Games 1 and 2, an amazing 29-0 when leading after the first quarter. Tops in the NBA, needless to say.

Of course, following Friday’s defeat the Mavericks are now 29-1 in that regard, still a preposterous figure but one that lacks the theatrical flare of a flawless record. Not to mention, even when intact, the streak hasn’t always been viewed as an absolute positive amongst some Mavericks fans and coaches.

As Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News wrote following Friday’s loss:

The Mavericks’ unblemished record when leading after one quarter, in particular, has been a near season-long source of pride — and angst — among Mavericks fans on Twitter.

Some fans asked reporters for the updated record; while others expressed dismay when it was tweeted, fearing that the mention of it would hex the Mavericks and guarantee a loss that night.

Others hoped that, since it was inevitable that the streak would end at some point, better to have it happen in the regular season. Now fans, and perhaps some superstitious players and coaches, no longer need to worry about it.

Whatever one might think about the karmic aspects of such a record, the fact that it exists could actually provide useful information to opposing teams.


Numbers Provide Clippers With Valuable Intel

Obviously, leading after the first quarter doesn’t guarantee that a team will lead throughout the entire game, nor does it guarantee success. But a 96% win rate in those situations certainly suggests that the Mavericks feed off the confidence of solid starts, much more so than the average team.

At the same time, the Mavericks’ poor flip-side record — 15-30 when they are losing or tied heading into the second quarter — can indicate a waning of confidence when things don’t go their way early.

“Good starts are important to us.” Carlisle said, per Mavs.com, back before the Clippers series began, when they were just a measly 27-0. “That’s obvious. That stat is an extreme stat.

“There are no guarantees with anything in this league, but one guarantee is if you consistently have bad starts you’re going to lose games. We’ve made some progress in this area — we’ve got to continue to work at it.”

Knowing this, the Clippers could and should put an oversized emphasis on beginning games with energy and focus, as opposed to easing in slowly (and without much attention to detail on defense), which they did to disastrous effect in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 1, the Clippers fell behind 24-12 and trailed by three after the first, in part because of Doncic (of course) but also on the strength of 4-for-4 three-point shooting between Dorian Finney-Smith and Tim Hardaway, Jr., both of whom would go on to have big nights.

“We just got to play basketball and go out there and be the best team on the court,” said Finney-Smith before the game. “We just got to come out with that edge. Whenever we come out with that edge from the beginning we’re a tough team to beat.”

In Game 2, Finney-Smith wasn’t much of a factor, in the first quarter or otherwise, but Maxi Kleber picked up the slack. Kleber hit two shots in the initial two minutes and finishing 5-for-5 with 12 points in the first frame. The Mavericks led by two after the first and won by six. Hardaway had 10 after one and 28 overall.

Perhaps equally impressive, the Mavericks are 41-3 this season in games that they’ve led by 10 points or more. This too says something about the Mavericks’ need for confidence-building and could be a valuable reminder to the Clippers that falling behind is often a loser’s path against Dallas.

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