Much of the buzz about Sunday afternoon's matchup between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Dallas Mavericks rightfully surrounded Luka Dončić, superstar in the making, who canned a 28-foot step-back three to defeat Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in overtime. What has flown mostly under the radar because of the spectacular play that ended the game was how the Clippers even got there. They were up 21 on Dallas and blew the lead. They have no injury excuse to fall back on. Leonard and George both played most of the second half. Yet Los Angeles couldn't beat a Mavs team that was missing its second-best player.
Some of that can be chalked up to the greatness of Dončić. Some can be attributed to George's exceptionally poor shooting continuing to rear its ugly head as "Playoff P" scored two points in the final three quarters and overtime. But the biggest issue has been the lack of Patrick Beverley and Doc Rivers' inability (so far) to adjust.
Beverley is not important on offense. That's never been his thing anyway. He's crucial on defense, though. Beverley is what unlocks the best version of the Clippers' defense, where they can switch nearly every screen without giving up much. He's a hounding defender and irritant, but he's also good enough to guard three positions. The Clippers don't have another point guard like that. All they have are Lou Williams, known for everything but his defense throughout his career, and Reggie Jackson, who had the misfortune of guarding Dončić when he sank the game-winner.
Despite his absence, Rivers is still having his guards and wings switch screens. The Mavericks absolutely abused Jackson, in particular, down the stretch. Dončić got whatever he liked when Jackson was on him and made several huge plays in the stretch run to send the game into overtime with Jackson guarding him. Yet Rivers continues to treat Jackson like Beverley, a player who can handle his own on defense. He cannot, as has become clear.
On the final play of the game, the Clippers switched on a Maxi Kleber screen that took Kawhi Leonard, the best defender in the world, off Doncic in favor of Jackson. The reasoning isn't completely illogical; with Los Angeles only up by one, trying to keep Leonard on Dončić could have resulted in a wide-open layup for a rolling Kleber or an open shot for Dončić. But if Jackson is going to be out there in those crunchtime situations (as appears to be the case for the near future after today brought no news that Beverley would be back in Game 4), he needs to be schemed like Williams or even Landry Shamet, where they fight over the screen and do their damndest to stick with the ballhandler instead of getting switched onto a bigger or more skilled opponent. It forces the Clippers defense to scramble, sure, but it also doesn't give the Mavericks the ability to dictate whatever matchup they want.
The series is tied at two games apiece and Rivers has the talent advantage when it comes to his squad. But the Mavs are coached by Rick Carlisle, who will relentlessly exploit any weakness at all. Rivers has failed to try and force Carlisle to do something, anything different than sending Dončić through a series of screens that gives him a weaker defender than Leonard or George. It's about time he did, or the Clippers might be in more trouble than anyone expected.