LOS ANGELES — Time is short. The Clippers don’t have the luxury of a long, slow buildup after hitting the re-set button on their season by trading Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons last week, as Coach Doc Rivers has pointed out repeatedly in recent days.
There is a sense of urgency now, with only 30 games remaining in the regular season after the Clippers’ 104-101 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night at Staples Center. There is no time to waste if the Clippers want to advance to the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.
So that’s why their second victory in three games since trading Griffin seemed like an opportunity seized. The Clippers, currently ninth in the Western Conference, had a 10-game lead over the last-place Mavericks, so this should have been easy pickings for them.
Instead, the game almost slipped away gradually in the second half, with defensive coverage breakdowns leading to wide-open baskets for the Mavericks. Offensively, the Clippers were disjointed and out of sync for extended periods.
But the Clippers trimmed a 101-91 deficit to 101-100 on Danilo Gallinari’s 3-pointer with 2:54 left. He put them ahead 102-101 with two free throws after Dennis Smith Jr. picked up his sixth foul with 24 seconds remaining. Dallas built its 10-point lead thanks to a 16-6 run.
Yogi Ferrell missed a go-ahead jumper and DeAndre Jordan tied up Salah Mejri. Jordan smacked the tip out to a streaking Avery Bradley, who converted a layup that made it 104-101 with 0.7 seconds left. Ferrell then stepped out of bounds with 0.2 seconds left on the Mavericks’ final possession.
Gallinari led the Clippers with a season-high 28 points. Wesley Matthews scored 23 points for the Mavericks.
Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki scored only four points on 1-for-6 shooting during a forgettable first half for him, but he passed the 50,000-minute mark for his career early in the second quarter. He vaulted over Elvin Hayes into fifth place on the NBA’s all-time list for minutes played. Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the league record at 57,446 minutes.
Nowitzki, 39, has played 20 seasons in the NBA, all with the Mavericks. He scored 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting for the game.
Dallas stayed within striking distance of the Clippers in the first half despite Nowitzki’s less-than-stellar shooting to start the game. The Mavericks led by as many as five points in the first half and trailed by as many as eight. The Clippers led by three at the break.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers started the same five who started their victory Saturday over the Chicago Bulls, the debut games for Bradley and Tobias Harris after the Jan. 29 multi-player trade that sent Griffin to the Pistons.
Rivers took a good, long look at the video of the Clippers’ 113-103 victory over the Bulls. He liked some of what he watched, disliked other parts of it and decided to simplify matters for Monday’s game against the Mavericks. He cut the Clippers’ set plays from four to two.
Better to master two than struggle with four, Rivers reasoned.
The Clippers weren’t as crisp or as polished at the start Monday as they were Saturday. Harris and Gallinari were their most effective offensive players against the Mavericks, just as they were while scoring 24 points apiece against the Bulls.
More to come on this story.
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