May 25, 2024

After Game 5 playoff loss, Clippers could be packing for Cancun soon

LOS ANGELES — Visitors to LA Live, the entertainment complex adjacent to Arena, were greeted with a digital billboard Wednesday morning from Skyscanner, a Scotland-based travel agency. “Dallas to Cancun,” it read in large type. “For great flights to Cancun, visit Skyscanner.”

The stunt — which, to be clear, was not operated or endorsed by the LA Clippers — was meant to poke fun at LA’s opponent, the Dallas Mavericks. It invoked a now-infamous line from former Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Van Exel, who shouted “1-2-3 CANCUN!” in the middle of a huddle with his team down 3-0 in a playoff series.

After the embarassing way the Clippers played in Game 5, though, perhaps the ad was engaging in equal opportunity trolling.

In what could go down as their final home game in downtown Los Angeles before the Intuit Dome in Inglewood, Calif. opens next fall, the Clippers suffered a 123-93 loss that puts them on the brink of elimination. It was the worst postseason loss in franchise history, and it came just three days after a thrilling win in Dallas to tie the first-round series at 2 apiece.

Now, the Clippers will head to Dallas for Friday’s Game 6 needing a win to keep their season alive. Otherwise, they, not the Mavericks, will be the team in position to take one of those direct flights to Cancun.

“It was just an uncharacteristic game,” Paul George said after scoring 15 points on 4-of-13 shooting. “We got to be better going into a Game 6.”

There isn’t a lot of basketball to analyze. An 8-0 Mavericks run late in the first half propelled Dallas to a 56-46 at halftime. After a putback by center Ivica Zubac with 10:29 left in the third quarter, the Clippers did not make a single field goal for six minutes and 25 seconds of game time. The Mavericks went on a 20-4 run that effectively ended the game.

The way the Clippers ended Sunday’s Game 4’s victory was a red flag. They led by 31 points in that game before Kyrie Irving made a single basket, while Luka Dončić labored on a sore right knee that was so bothersome that he took more than two hours to address the media afterwards. From Irving’s first basket midway through the second quarter to his last of 14 made field goals with about two minutes left, the Mavericks outscored the Clippers by 32 points in Game 4. While LA recovered in the last two minutes to preserve the win, the comeback provided evidence of Dallas finding a way to succeed against a Clippers team missing injured star Kawhi Leonard.

In Game 5, the Mavericks carried out those lessons from the jump. With Dončić’s knee still shaky, the Mavericks got Irving going sooner. Once Irving started scoring in Game 5, the Mavericks again outscored the Clippers by 32 points. The difference was that Irving’s first basket came 17 seconds into the game, not after Dallas trailed by 31 points.

Meanwhile, the Clippers played like a team who believed they had a tomorrow. They acted as if they were comfortable with Leonard on the sidelines because it had been nearly a month since the full rotation lost a game without him. LA shot 37.9 percent from the field and 25.7 percent from 3. The Clippers only generated four steals despite repeatedly gambling on defense rather than maintaining solid positioning.


“Not making shots, not defending, had some gambles that really cost us early in the game,” nonplussed Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “It kind of got them going. It was a two-point game here and there, and we had three gambles, gave them eight points. So that kind of got them going, especially with Maxi Kleber making those two 3’s on some gambles. Overall, we weren’t good on both sides of the basketball and just had a bad game. And give them credit, they played well as well.”

George attempted only one shot in the second quarter and didn’t make his first 3 until the Clippers were already down by 22 with a minute left in the third quarter. He hasn’t attempted 20 shots since the series opener. Harden, who rescued Game 4 with his new-and-improved floater, scored just seven points on 2-of-12 shooting and committed four turnovers.

“The uncharacteristic mistakes that we made, that wasn’t who we’ve been in this series,” George said. “That’s not who we are. So we gotta get better. Especially in this situation, the chance to go up 3-2, and not take advantage of that opportunity. But, you know. We’ve been here before. Going to Dallas, being down 3-2. So we just, you know, it’s got to be a win, and our mentality we have is to try and go get a win in Dallas.”

Lue also referenced the Clippers’ comeback in the teams’ 2021 first-round series.

We just didn’t play a good game and so that’s okay, turn the page.” Lue said. “You still got to win four games, and we know we [can] win on that floor and we’ve shown that past two playoff series, we were down 3-2 the (second time) we played them. We didn’t play our best game and we understand that. I think we all understand that collectively. So we’ll be better for Game 6.”

About that, though. Yes, the Clippers, after losing Game 5 at home, did go to Dallas to win Game 6 before triumphing in Game 7 three seasons ago. But they needed one of the best performances of Leonard’s career — a 45-point masterpiece in which he made a career-high 18 field goals — to do it. This time, Leonard is in street clothes; even if he plays in Game 6, he certainly won’t be that Leonard.

They do have Harden, who had been averaging 26.0 points on 54.1 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3 in the first four games of this series. His Game 5 performance, however, evoked memories of his past playoff letdowns. Overall, Harden and George combined for more turnovers (seven) than baskets (six).

Being human,” Lue said of Harden’s forgettable outing. “He’s allowed to have a bad game. We didn’t shoot the ball well. They tried to get up and pressure a little bit, which we didn’t handle like we had in the first four games. He played bad. It’s possible. He didn’t play well. So I got to do a better job getting him in better situations and then being ready for Game 6, which I know he’ll be better.”

The most damning part of the Clippers’ performance was that they look so unprepared on an ideal night to keep an advantage in the series. You don’t lose by 30 at home and live to tell the tale. Of the 25 teams who lost a playoff game at home by at least 30 points, only one, (the 2005 Indiana Pacers against the Boston Celtics), went on to win the series.

“Tonight we were just low and I don’t think it’s fatigue or anything that they did,” Zubac said. “… We weren’t ready for this game, and that’s not an excuse. Game 5, we got to come out and compete, and losing by 30 is not good. But now we know next game, we got to win the only way we can stand. So that’s it.”

Otherwise, the boards of the arena floor will have been packed up for a Clippers game for the last time.

(Top photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)