Luka Doncic's defensive effort keys Mavs' Game 2 win vs. Clips

April 24, 2024, 3:49 AM

LOS ANGELES -- The  Dallas Mavericks' series-tying 96-93 win over the LA Clippers in Tuesday's Game 2 featured a couple of typical Luka Doncic moments down the stretch, displays of his extraordinary skill and intense passion.

Doncic swished a pair of critical step-back 3s from the top of the arc in the fourth quarter, punctuating both by looking toward the stands and shouting in exhilaration. The first, which was contested by Kawhi Leonard, gave the Mavericks the lead for good with 7:03 remaining. The second, which was over James Harden, served as a dagger with 1:26 left.

Doncic finished with 32 points and 9 assists, numbers near his norms, but he might have been more impactful on the other end of the floor.

Considered a defensive liability at times in his career, Doncic spearheaded the Mavericks' smothering effort Tuesday night against the Clippers, who shot 36.8% from the floor, their lowest field goal percentage of the season.

"I think his defense has been great this whole series," Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. "We know they're going to put him in pick-and-roll. A couple years ago we saw this, and we had to tell him to participate. But I think he's participating at a high level on both ends. He's leading not just on the offensive end but also the defensive end."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Clippers shot 2-of-17 from the floor when Doncic was the primary defender. The Clippers missed all 11 shots that Doncic contested, the second-most field goal attempts contested without allowing a make in a playoff game over the past five years.

"I accept it," Doncic said regarding the Clippers' strategy of attempting to attack him as often as possible. "It gets me going on defensive end too. That's fine. I think I played good defense today. I've just got to stay locked in."

Harden, who had 28 points in the Clippers' Game 1 win, was the player who Doncic defended the most often in Game 2. He was 1-of-5 from the floor when guarded by Doncic, who played 46 minutes.

Doncic has taken pride in improving as an individual defender this season, particularly when he is on the ball. According to Synergy tracking, Doncic allowed only 0.76 points per possession as an isolation defender, which ranks in the 83rd percentile in the league.

Dallas' defensive turnaround keyed the team's strong finish. The Mavericks ranked as the NBA's top-rated team in defensive efficiency in the final 20 games of the season, when Dallas went on a 16-2 run before resting Doncic and co-star Kyrie Irving in the final two games of the regular season.

Kidd described the physical style of the Mavericks' series with the Clippers as "'90s basketball at its best," and Doncic set the tone defensively in the first half.

The Clippers went 1-of-12 from the floor in the first half when Doncic was the primary defender, missing all eight shots he contested.

"When he gets his stops like this and pushes it, it's even more fun for us because we already know what he does on offense," said Mavericks center/power forward Maxi Kleber, who hit a clutch 3 off one of Doncic's four assists in the fourth quarter. "It spreads to everybody else. He's bringing the energy, and he's going to set the tone for us. And when he does stuff like that, it gives everybody juice."