Clippers dominate Game 4 to even series against Mavericks

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

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

When the Clippers came to Dallas four days ago, they trailed 2-0 in this 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 during the second half, they return home officially tied in the series but looking like they have cracked Dallas’ code after a series of adjustments, and swarming defense, grabbing control of this matchup.

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

Kawhi Leonard had 29 points, making 11 of his 15 shots, and Paul George added 20 points, making six of his 16 shots. In one stretch during the second quarter that lasted less than two minutes, George stepped into a three-pointer, with a swish. He ripped through the paint for a layup. Pulling up from 19 feet, 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.

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)

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

Since falling behind by 19 points in the first quarter of Game 3, the Clippers have outscored Dallas 213-159.

The Clippers never had to dig themselves out of a hole Sunday, however. Lue made no small adjustment by choosing to go small from the start — replacing center Ivica Zubac with backup forward Nicolas Batum. With no starter taller than 6-foot-8, Lue emphasized rebounding in his talks with players before Game 4, showing video clips of times when multiple Mavericks crashed the glass.

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

Starting in a postseason game for the first time since 2016, Batum was 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 scored 10 points, five rebounds and his four steals tied a season high.

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

Playing small opened up the floor for the Clippers’ offense, pulling 7-foot-2 Mavericks center Boban Marjanovic 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 and led by as many as 28 points.

Dallas shot 34% overall and made just five of its 30 three-pointers. Luka Doncic, playing with tape running from his neck down his left arm because of pain he first felt during Game 3, made nine of his 24 shots, including just one of seven three-pointers and none of his five free throws.

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.

Clippers-Mavericks first-round playoff schedule.

Clippers-Mavericks first-round playoff schedule.

(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

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