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Clippers dominate Game 4 to even series against Mavericks

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The first fans who had seen enough left American Airlines Center on Sunday night after three quarters, picking up the free blue T-shirts that had been left on every seat ahead of Game 4 before walking out, their team down 22 points.

They left in waves eight minutes later, the final straw seeing guard Reggie Jackson make a corner three-pointer to push the Clippers’ lead over the Dallas Mavericks to 24, then strut back into the arms of a gleeful, whooping bench.

When the Clippers came to Dallas, they trailed 2-0 in this Western Conference first-round playoff series, with the possibility looming that their flight home to Los Angeles late Sunday might be their final trip of the season.

Now, after a dominant 106-81 victory that was not close for the final half, they return home officially tied in the series but looking like they have cracked Dallas’ code after a series of adjustments that includes swarming defense.

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The Clippers are strutting. Meanwhile, Dallas star Luka Doncic is “in pain,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said, after he played through a strained neck for a second consecutive game. Doncic bent over, wincing at times, on his way to 19 points on 24 field-goal tries.

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“We still haven’t done anything yet,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.

Clippers forward Paul George flexes from the sideline as he watches the end of Game 4 on Sunday night in Dallas.

(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

What they did do is not overreact to the hole they had dug themselves.

“We knew our mistakes,” said forward Nicolas Batum. And since falling behind by 19 points in the first quarter of Game3, the Clippers have finally solved them, outscoring Dallas by 213-159 since.

“We didn’t panic,” Batum said.

A home team still has not won in this series, but the Clippers looked very comfortable inside an arena with more than 17,000 fans for a second consecutive game.

Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points, making 11 of his 15 field-goal attempts, and Paul George scored 20 points, making six of his 16. In one stretch during the second quarter, George stepped into a three-pointer and swished it. He ripped through the paint for a layup. Pulling up from 19feet, he drained his third basket in a row, an onslaught all in less than two minutes that forced Dallas, down 13, to call a timeout.

Before George retreated to the huddle, he stopped to yell to the crowd, exorcising the playoff demons from one year ago when he shot poorly against Dallas and was widely mocked for it.

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Lue made no small adjustment by choosing to go small from the start — replacing center Ivica Zubac with Batum. With no starter taller than 6 feet 8, Lue emphasized rebounding in his talks with players before Game 4, showing video clips of times when multiple Mavericks crashed the glass.

Highlights from the Los Angeles Clippers’ 108-81 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on May 30, 2021, in Dallas.

The result was an oft-swarming defense that, coupled with the Mavericks’ shooting regression, has been a turning point.

Starting in a postseason game for the first time since 2016, Batum was a plus-15 in the first half, tying Rajon Rondo for the team’s high, with his contributions quiet but vital, such as breaking up three entry passes in the first quarter as Dallas tried to exploit its height advantage through post-ups. He finished with 10 points and five rebounds, and his four steals tied a season high.

Playing small opened up the floor for the Clippers, pulling 7-foot-2 Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis away from the rim to guard the perimeter. George and Leonard were determined to score in the paint as often as possible, attacking the lack of rim protection.

The Clippers finished with 44 points in the paint.

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Carlisle’s response was to insert 7-4 Boban Marjanovic against the Clippers’ tiny lineup, and he scored two quick baskets. The Clippers countered by inserting Zubac. But every adjustment afterward by Dallas was made null by its inability to shoot.

The Mavericks shot 34% overall and made just five of their 30 three-point tries. Doncic, playing with tape running from his neck down his left arm because of pain, said his neck had felt better Sunday morning, but he never looked comfortable in making nine of his 24 field-goal attempts, including just one of his seven three-point tries. He was 0 for 5 on free throws.

“We lost by 20, and the injuries are part of basketball,” Doncic said. “But I played terrible, so just gotta move on to the next one.”

Clippers-Mavericks first-round playoff schedule.

Clippers-Mavericks first-round playoff schedule.

(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

Doncic’s supporting cast was missing in action for a second consecutive loss. Forward Maxi Kleber went 24 minutes without taking a shot. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored four points, eventually writhing in pain on the court after being undercut in the fourth quarter.

“I just knew we had to simplify some things,” Lue said. “I knew we had to get better with our game-plan mistakes.”

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