The Los Angeles Clippers got the first-round matchup they seemingly wanted.
Through two games, the Dallas Mavericks are proving just how foolish that was.
Luka Doncic scored 39 points to lead the Mavericks to a 127-121 victory Tuesday for a 2-0 series lead that has only increased the spotlight on the Clippers and ratcheted up the pressure for a team desperate to win its first championship. Doncic and company picked apart the Los Angeles defense and shot 58.5% from the field, including 18-of-34 from 3-point range (52.9%).
The Clippers have lost five consecutive playoff games dating to last year's second round, where they blew a 3-1 series lead and lost to the Denver Nuggets. With the specter of that collapse looming over the entire 2020-21 regular season, the Clippers vowed things would be different in these playoffs.
Things are clearly not going as planned.
"I'm pretty sure everyone expected us to win this," said Paul George. "They're playing free and with confidence and I think we're giving them a little too much confidence. It's up to us to shut that down."
— NBA (@NBA) May 26, 2021
Kawhi Leonard poured in 41 points, including 30 in the first half, and George had 28 as the Clippers shot 53.6% from the field. However, they had no answer for Doncic, who finished 16-of-29 shooting with seven rebounds and seven assists. Leonard said defense will be key going forward.
"That's what we got to do, we got to get stops," Leonard said. "We got to make them miss shots. We got to play defense. Shooting 58%, 52% from 3 is just not going to cut it. ... Too many easy baskets out there for Dallas."
Despite the deficit, the Clippers aren't panicking, even as the series shifts to Dallas for the next two games. Asked if there was any concern among the team, George bluntly said there wasn't.
"There is none," George said. "We got to rise to the occasion. Fact of the matter is if we don't, we're done for. There's no level of concern."
His coach agreed.
"I'm not concerned," said Clippers coach Ty Lue. "They won two games on our home floor and now we got to return the favor."
State of the series: Mavericks lead 2-0. Game 3 is Friday in Dallas (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Anthony Davis took the blame for the Lakers' Game 1 loss and vowed to play much better in Game 2. Davis was true to his word and scored a game-high 34 points to help Los Angeles bounce back and even the series. LeBron James added 23 points as he and Davis made clutch buckets down the stretch to secure the win for the Lakers. Davis also shot 18-of-21 on free throws and had 10 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks. Devin Booker scored 31 points and Deandre Ayton had 22 points and 10 rebounds in strong follow-up performances to their playoff debuts, but Chris Paul was limited to 23 minutes while dealing with the right shoulder injury he sustained in Game 1.
State of the series: Tied 1-1. Game 3 is Thursday in Los Angeles (10 p.m. ET, TNT).
— NBA (@NBA) May 26, 2021
After the Nets' Big 3 carried the load in their series-opening win, Joe Harris sparked the offense in a Game 2 rout that gave Brooklyn a commanding 2-0 lead. Harris scored a playoff career-high 25 points and tied a franchise playoff record with seven 3-pointers as the Nets took control early and never trailed after the first four minutes. Kevin Durant scored 26 points, James Harden had 20 and Kyrie Irving added 15. Brooklyn shot 52.3% overall and 17-of-38 from 3-point range (44.7%). Celtics leading scorer Jayson Tatum was limited to nine points on 3-of-12 shooting in 21 minutes. He left the game early in the third quarter after getting poked in the right eye and did not return.
State of the series: Nets lead 2-0. Game 3 is Friday in Boston (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
— NBA (@NBA) May 26, 2021
Here's where the rest of the first-round series stand entering Wednesday:
Sixers vs. Wizards
The top-seeded Sixers didn't play their best in Game 1, but they did enough to take care of the Wizards. Philadelphia got a boost from veteran guard George Hill, who coach Doc Rivers said will be "huge" due to his playoff experience. The key for the Wizards remains how much support they muster around Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook
State of the series: Sixers lead 1-0. Game 2 is Wednesday in Philadelphia (7 p.m. ET, NBATV).
Knicks vs. Hawks
Trae Young rose to the occasion in his playoff debut, knocking down the game-winner in the closing seconds to give Atlanta the win in the series opener. Slowing down Young will be a big key for the Knicks in Game 2, but they'll also need more from Julius Randle, the Most Improved Player recipient who was limited to 15 points on 6-of-23 shooting.
State of the series: Hawks lead 1-0. Game 2 is Wednesday in New York (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
Jazz vs. Grizzlies
After winning two play-in games and the series opener, the Grizzlies' confidence is sky-high, and they're carrying themselves with a swagger unlike a typical eighth seed. The Jazz are primed for a bounce-back game with the expected return of leading scorer Donovan Mitchell, who has been out since April 16 with a sprained right ankle.
State of the series: Grizzlies lead 1-0. Game 2 is Wednesday in Utah (10 p.m. ET, TNT).
Bucks vs. Heat
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks took control of the series with a Game 2 romp in which they showed off their offensive versatility and reminded the East how good they can be. The Heat, though, are as equipped as any team to turn things around with their resilience, especially with the series shifting to Miami for the next two games.
State of the series: Bucks lead 2-0. Game 3 is Thursday in Miami (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
Nuggets vs. Blazers
The Nuggets got back in the series with a Game 2 win and may have unlocked a key to helping slow down Damian Lillard in Aaron Gordon's defense. Lillard will find ways to score, and the series is still very much unsettled, but the Blazers might not be long for the playoffs if the defense continues to struggle getting stops.
State of the series: Tied 1-1. Game 3 is Thursday in Portland (10:30 p.m. ET, NBATV).
Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA playoffs: Dallas Mavericks take 2-0 series lead on LA Clippers