LOS ANGELES — As Luka Doncic grabbed a defensive rebound in the closing seconds of the Dallas Mavericks Game 1 upset win over the LA Clippers, Mavs owner Mark Cuban punched the air with his fist in celebration as disappointed Clippers fans filed out of Staples Center.
This was not how the Clippers envisioned their return to the playoffs. After suffering an epic meltdown last postseason, the Clippers struggled in crunch time of a playoff game again. This time, the Clippers were outscored 13-3 by Dallas in the final three minutes to drop Game 1, 113-103, and lose home-court advantage in this best-of-seven first-round series.
After Paul George tied the score at 100 with 3 minutes, 12 seconds remaining, the Clippers missed eight of their last nine shots and three of four free throws. The Clippers have now lost four straight playoff games dating back to last postseason in the NBA bubble when they blew a 3-1 lead and lost to the Denver Nuggets in the second round.
“It’s based on us, what we want to do,” Clippers All-Star Kawhi Leonard said. “Everybody was pretty up. Nobody was really down on the game. Obviously nobody wants to lose.”
Leonard added: “But our spirits are still high and we believe in ourselves. Nothing good comes easy.”
This franchise knows that all too well. The Clippers are still searching for their first trip to the Western Conference Finals in franchise history after coming within one victory of that milestone last postseason. Falling well short of championship expectations last year, the Clippers entered this season motivated to prove doubters wrong, wash the foul taste of last year’s failure out of their mouths and win this postseason.
But the Clippers, the best 3-point shooting team this regular season, missed 14 of 18 3-pointers in the first half. On the other end, they couldn’t slow down Doncic, who scored 21 points in the first half before finishing with 31 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
Even though the Clippers were finally at full strength after having their continuity and chemistry disrupted by injuries the past couple of months, they looked like a team still trying to find its rhythm.
“We had a lot of breakdowns, a lot of mistakes defensively that we didn’t execute right,” said Clippers coach Ty Lue, who took over as head coach after the team parted ways with Doc Rivers following last postseason. “We’ve just got to clean those things up and we will be fine. We’ve got to all be on the same page defensively with what we are doing and when we are changing coverages as well.”
Lue added: “We’ll be fine. One game. They won. Hats off to those guys. They came in and played well.”
Paul George, who was determined to bounce back this season after struggling in the playoffs last year, started slow but came on late in the game. He missed six of his first seven shots and had seven points at halftime before finishing with 23 points, six rebounds and five assists.
George scored 10 points and made 4-of-7 shots in the fourth quarter. The All-Star guard tied the score at 100 on a 19-foot stepback jumper. But after Finney-Smith made a 3, Marcus Morris missed two free throws, George missed a quick 3 and Leonard missed a 20-foot pull-up attempt. Dallas raced out to a seven-point lead with 1:24 left, and the Clippers couldn’t catch up.
Leonard, who started the game off strong and had a monster dunk over Maxi Kleber, missed three of his last four shots in the fourth. He finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Leonard said after last year’s collapse that the Clippers needed to improve their basketball IQ and ability to adapt and adjust. Entering this postseason, he said the key to success for the Clippers would be everything between the ears.
But in their first game of this postseason, the Clippers had defensive breakdowns, missed shots and even missed opportunities at the free throw line where they were better than anyone else this season.
George credited the Mavericks and reiterated that the Clippers aren’t feeling any more pressure than other teams in the playoffs despite facing championship expectations again while trying to prove that last year’s collapse wasn’t who they are.
“I mean, you know we expect to play better, be more dialed in Game 2,” George said. “We’re not looking at it as just because of who we have, we’re expecting to win. We got the same pressure as every team that’s in this.”
“We want to be the last team standing regardless of however many games it takes or how tough the road is,” George added. “So we got to be better for Game 2, and I plan on this team bouncing back.”
Draymond Green feeling ‘lot of respect’ for NBA Finals players sticking to Tokyo commitment
TOKYO — Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday were scheduled to arrive in Japan on a private G6 jet around 11 p.m. Saturday, less than 24 hours before Team USA opens Olympic play against France in a vital game out of gate.
It’s a brutal travel day after an exhausting playoff stretch that will test their mental and physical stamina. It also won the extreme respect of their American teammates.
“I have a lot of respect for those guys for not only committing to do this but actually keeping their word,” Team USA forward Draymond Green said. “You’re talking about three true professionals, three extremely competitive guys that wouldn’t be on their way here if this didn’t mean something.”
As the American team got together to watch NBA Finals games during training camp in Las Vegas and after flying to Japan, they speculated about the possibility that one or more of the three might beg off after such an extreme turnaround. But all three repeatedly stood by their commitment. On Friday afternoon, Booker took a plane from Phoenix and Middleton and Holiday, less than a day after their championship parade, took one from Milwaukee.
They met up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, not as the competitors they were for the previous two weeks, but as teammates. After refueling, they got on the long-range plane for a nine-hour trip across the Pacific through the night.
“We could’ve very easily got to the last game … and Devin Booker saying, ‘Man, we lost, I’m pissed off, I’m out,’ or Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday saying, ‘We just won a championship, I want to celebrate and stay home with my family, I’m out,'” Green said. “It’s on us to make sure that we do our parts to make sure they’re rewarded with what they ultimately came here for, which is to help us to compete and win a gold medal.”
It is unclear how much coach Gregg Popovich can rely on the three to play, but he indicated his plan is to use them against the French, who project to be the toughest matchup the Americans will face in a pool-play round that also includes games against Iran and the Czech Republic.
“We obviously know they’re in shape. They’re tired. They just went through a roller coaster of emotion,” Team USA guard Zach LaVine said. “I think they’ll be ready to go, and we’ll see what happens. But as for the team, I think we need to be ready for everything. If they’re not ready to go, then we have to go out there and perform still.”
After finishing seventh at the World Cup in China in 2019, when France knocked them off the medal stand in the quarterfinals, and losing two exhibition games in Las Vegas, the reputation of the American team has taken some hits. But despite challenges with COVID-19 protocols, injuries and little time to bond, Team USA will have 12 healthy players and a formidable talent pool ready to try to reestablish dominance.
“As much as it sucks to lose, those two losses only helped us,” Green said. “They didn’t hurt us one bit. If anything, maybe you lost a little bit of the fear that we’ve had in people’s hearts for years. Which you go out and do what you’ve got to do and you can get that right back.”
Cleveland Cavaliers extend qualifying offer to Jarrett Allen
The team had until Aug. 1 to make the offer to Allen, a 23-year-old acquired last season in a trade from Brooklyn and viewed as one of Cleveland’s core pieces.
The Cavs can now match any offer given by other teams to Allen, whose size and athleticism at both ends of the floor makes him enticing.
General manager Koby Altman has expressed his hope to keep Allen in Cleveland long-term.
Allen, who played college ball at Texas, came to the Cavs as part of the blockbuster trade in January that sent star James Harden to the Nets.
Allen’s arrival pushed veteran Andre Drummond to the bench and eventually led to the team buying out the two-time All-Star center’s contract.
Allen averaged 13.2 points and 9.9 rebounds in 51 games — 40 starts — for Cleveland.
Devin Booker, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday available for Team USA opener vs. France
TOKYO — The trio of players making the unprecedented jump from the NBA Finals to the Olympics are all scheduled to be in Japan by Saturday.
After attending the Milwaukee Bucks‘ championship parade Thursday, Middleton and Holiday are scheduled to fly to Seattle on Friday. There, they will join Booker, whose Phoenix Suns they helped eliminate on Tuesday, and take a private plane to Tokyo.
The pivot from being opponents in the NBA playing for the highest stakes to teammates on the national team going for a gold medal has happened over the years but never this suddenly, making it one of the more awkward scenarios in Team USA’s already fascinating history of intersecting star players.
“I would say just understanding competition and that it’s never personal between who you’re going with, unless lines are crossed,” Booker said this week discussing going from foe to teammate with the Bucks’ players. “Those guys aren’t that type and I would never go that way with them, because there’s a high respect level for each other. Representing your country is a whole different dynamic than competing against each other in the NBA Finals, but I can always respect somebody that competes at the highest level.”
With the lengthy procedures for entry into Japan, it is unlikely the new arrivals will get much more than a light walk-through with the rest of Team USA, which has been in Japan since Tuesday. But with an expected tough test against the French, Popovich is planning on using his reinforcements immediately, even if he’s not sure how it will play out.
“I have no idea [how to use them]. I’m not trying to be glib. I’m trying to be transparent,” Popovich said. “Maybe they’ll be OK for the game [Sunday] and it’ll hit them two days later. Maybe we should play them in the first half and see what they’re like.”
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