Clippers survive Luka Doncic’s late barrage to win in Dallas

Clippers survive Luka Doncics late barrage to win in Dallas

Feigning ignorance before tipoff to hide a team’s strategic cards can be as much a function of the job for NBA coaches as drawing up plays during timeouts. When he says he can’t remember his starting lineup, or the status of a player’s health, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, who is typically an open book, can be no exception.

Yet Saturday evening, when asked how he would defend Luka Doncic two days after the Clippers allowed Dallas’ superstar a career-high 51 points, Lue did not dodge or weave.

“Same thing we did last game,” Lue said. “Yeah, you can tell ‘em.”

The “same thing” involved allowing Doncic to freely draw the same defender he scored most of his 28 first-quarter points Thursday on — Clippers center Ivica Zubac. In fact, Lue made it even easier, no ball-screen required, telling the center to match up on the guard from the very start of possessions.

Superstars spend their lives having opposing coaches make games as miserable as possible, throwing up as many defensive road blocks as possible. Lue took another tack, and the chess move’s intent was unmistakable, a clear appeal to the star’s pride: We’re giving you what you want; now, can you beat us all by yourself?

Doncic tried. He fired a step-back three-pointer over Zubac on his first possession, a miss. He finally made his third shot, then a three-pointer in transition over Zubac, but soon was stonewalled when Zubac wasn’t fooled by a Doncic ball-fake. When he tried it again, Doncic was called for a travel.

The Clippers’ Terance Mann shoots against Dallas defenders Dwight Powell (7) and Luka Doncic. Mann had 21 points and nine rebounds.

(LM Otero / Associated Press)

By halftime, Doncic needed 14 shots to score his 16 points, and after turnovers on consecutive third-quarter possessions, with the Clippers still clinging to their lead, a worried murmur ripped through American Airlines Center.

But with three seconds to play, and Dallas trailing by two points, there were only raucous cheers and standing fans as they waited on another miracle from Doncic. On a night where points did not come easily early, Doncic had scored 19 consecutive points to claw the Mavericks back from down 10 points. Two days after Lue said he had probably stuck too long with allowing Zubac to guard Doncic, the Clippers kept the 7-footer who had worked so well in the first half on the star guard to diminishing returns.

Doncic caught his final pass nearly 45 feet from the basket and was given an almost inexcusable opening to shoot when Clippers guard Reggie Jackson turned his back on the guard. He rushed to recover, as did forward Marcus Morris Sr., and Doncic’s three-pointer missed as the Clippers’ three-game losing streak ended in a 99-97 victory.

Doncic finished with 45 points, including 23 in the fourth quarter, but had only eight assists and took 33 shots as the Clippers’ counter-intuitive one-man plan worked — barely.

“I don’t care if he had 90,” Lue said. “I thought our team did a hell of a job.”

Lue kept smiling behind his mask looking at a box score. Doncic “took it personal” to have a center on him, Lue said.

“No one else really had a rhythm going,” Lue said. “I think the game plan worked tonight.”

The Clippers (28-30) were led by Jackson’s 24 points while Terance Mann scored a season-high 20.

The Mavericks' Luka Doncic passes as he's defended by the Clippers' Ivica Zubac (40), Terance Mann and Reggie Jackson (1).

The Mavericks’ Luka Doncic passes as he’s defended by the Clippers’ Ivica Zubac (40), Terance Mann, center, and Reggie Jackson (1). Doncic had 45 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists.

(LM Otero / Associated Press)

Kawhi Leonard watched most of the first half from the sideline before retreating underneath the grandstands, the second consecutive road game he has watched live after rarely joining the team on road trips for much of the season amid his recovery from offseason knee surgery. Leonard “couldn’t be around the team because of the COVID restrictions,” Lue said, and added that his presence on road trips later this season — which he said “just breeds confidence into everyone else” — depends on his recovery.

“When he’s rehabbing in San Diego or he’s doing his rehabs, just got to make sure everything kind of adds up,” Lue said.

Leonard joined guard Norman Powell as observers in street clothes after Powell suffered a turf toe injury Thursday. Dallas, meanwhile, was without two of their trade-deadline additions: Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans.

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