Well, it was fun while it lasted.
There was the Los Angeles Clippers slander, of course.
Everybody likes Clippers’ jokes.
And there were dreams of the Dallas Mavericks not only winning the first playoff series since their magical championship run in 2011, but having possible legitimate hopes of making it to the conference finals in what appears to be a wide open west.
American Airlines Center has seen quite a turn. The unbridled joy and sheer hilarity of the first quarter of Friday night’s game has been replaced by a quiet and somber crowd following Sunday night’s Game 4 loss. The Mavs went from from being up 2-0 to being tied 2-2, and it’s not wrong to wonder when — and how — they might win another game in this series.
Sunday’s 106-81 loss provided the exclamation point but it was simply a continuation of a merciless onslaught that began in a 118-108 setback on Friday night when the Clippers rallied from an early 30-11 deficit to run away from Mavs.
The Mavs simply have no answers for Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as the series heads back to Los Angeles for the critical Game 5 on Wednesday.
The Clippers’ tandem simply did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, and was unchecked a Mavericks’ defense that seemed as soft in the middle as the Dallas Cowboys were last season.
“We have to work on defending better,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. “That is obvious. It’s simple. It’s a matchup-based series. We have work to get more traction defensively. They have two great players that are putting their heads down and trying to go through us. We have to do better.”
The Clippers have outscored the Mavs 213-159 since Los Angeles found itself in a 19-point hole while still in the first quarter Friday night. It’s a new series now and there is no reason to believe things will revert back to how the series started.
The Clippers have regained their confidence to go along with their chippy and annoying swagger.
And with the Mavs’ all-star guard Luka Donic now playing in obvious pain with an injured neck, albeit valiantly, the Mavs don’t stand a chance.
Doncic led the Mavs with 19 points on Sunday but it was on 9-of-24 shooting. He also missed all five of his free throws.
After averaging 33 points through the first three games, Doncic clearly wasn’t himself Sunday night.
He received treatment when he was on the bench and was seen contorting his body and face at times on the court after making normal passes.
“He’s in pain,” Carlisle said. “He couldn’t turn left. He couldn’t look left. That is difficult for a guy who plays with peripheral vision, plays with his head on a swivel. We hope in the next couple of days he can get better, substantially better. His neck contributed to him having some real unusual struggles.”
Doncic acknowledged it’s a nerve issue in his neck.
“The pain is like neck and then the nerve down,” Doncic said. “I don’t really know how to explain that. I’ll just keep doing massages, ice it down and then be ready for Wednesday.”
But he refused to make excuses for his performance.
“I don’t think that matters right now,” Doncic said. “We lost. Injuries are part of basketball. I played terrible, so just gotta move on to next one.”
Even with a healthy Doncic, the Mavs’ biggest struggles are on defense.
On Friday, Leonard and George scored 36 points and 29 points, combining to make 24 of 35 shots. And a great many of those came in the paint.
It was the same on Sunday with Leonard scoring 29 points and pulling down 10 rebounds, and George adding 20 points in a game that the Clippers seemingly controlled from the outset. L.A. put Dallas out of its misery in the third quarter by building a 28-point lead.
As good as the Mavs were at knocking down threes in the first three games of the series, the team went ice cold in Game 4, connecting on only five of 30 attempts. The Mavs have to shoot better, but they must find a way to stop Leonard and the Clippers, who shot 48 percent from the field.
It was simply too easy for Leonard, who only missed four shots all night with most of makes on dunks and layups.
The Clippers scored 44 points in the paint and outscored the Mavs 17-4 on the fast break.
“They have great players,” Carlisle said. “They have great shooting. It’s a challenge. When you are missing and not doing a good job of getting back, it amplifies the challenges ever more. We have to remain steadfast. We have to keep working on our defense.”
It may be too late.
It appears the party is over.