The complete Clippers comeback from 25 points down was so tantalizing close, an intentionally missed free throw close, a fumbled rebound close.
“That’s what we’ve been about the last three years,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said about his team “competing” and coming back in games. “We didn’t start the game particularly well offensively or defensively and got behind. And when you get behind by that many points, it’s hard to try to catch up and then you get exhausted.”
Nicolas Batum had been the man of the hour for the Clippers, knocking down three-pointer after three-pointer, going seven-for-seven from three to become the only player in franchise history to be perfect from the three-point line in a single game.
Batum had stepped to the free-throw line for two with 4.2 seconds left and the Clippers down by 103-100.
He made the first free throw but missing the second on purpose.
Lue said wanted to run their “X free-throw” play, which turned out to be Batum missing the free throw to the right side of the rim.
The basketball bounced and ended up in the hands of Robert Covington. But as he tried to get possession of the ball, he lost it out of bounds.
“I was fouled on that play,” he said. “Simple as that.”
And that was it for the Clippers.
They were left shaking their heads at the off-balanced shot Luka Doncic made as the 24-second clock was running out in the fourth. Doncic had kept the ball from going out of bounds and threw up a 29-foot three-pointer with about 0.6 seconds left on the 24-second clock, the ball setting into the nets for a 102-98 Mavericks lead with 27.6 seconds left.
That shot gave Doncic 35 points to go along with his 11 rebounds.
It was essentially the backbreaker for the Clippers, who actually took a three-point lead in the fourth.
“To come back and take the lead against a good team like this just talks about our character and what we’re trying to build here,” Lue said. “So, like I said, they got the victory but we kept competing. So, I like to see that.”
Already without Kawhi Leonard yet again because of right knee injury management, the Clippers then lost starting guard Luke Kennard because of a strained right calf.
Kennard had been called for a foul early in the first quarter and looked to be in discomfort, limping back to the Clippers’ bench with nine minutes sevens seconds left. He eventually untucked his jersey and walked back to the locker room.
They had gotten back reserve point guard John Wall, who had missed the game in Houston on Monday night with left knee injury management, but things still got worse for the Clippers after Kennard was injured.
Wall was strong all game, finishing with 17 points.
Paul George got off just four shots in the first half, making two, but not nearly enough for a Clippers team in need of offense with Leonard and Kennard out of the game.
But George faced double teams all game, the Mavericks limiting him to 13 shots, of which he made seven for is 23 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists.
The Clippers fell into a 15-point hole in the first quarter that grew into a 54-29 deficit in the second quarter, forcing them to try and play catch-up the rest of the way.
They shot just 34.4% from the field in the first half. They turned the ball over 12 times.
They outscored the Mavericks 33-15 in the third quarter and that got them back in the game.
“I would love to win it tonight,” Batum said. “But you can’t put yourself in that position. I know it’s against a good team with a great player. It came be tough on the road to try to produce a win. We almost did it. Almost pulled it out. But we gotta get a better start. You need to be a better job than it and don’t be down 25 on the road.”