The matchup between franchises that have met in the postseason’s first round each of the last two years was notable for all the ways it looked so familiar.
After sitting the last three games with a sprained knee and ankle, Dallas Mavericks star guard Luka Doncic again mugged for Staples Center’s courtside seats after step-back three-pointers and improbable jumpers, once again looking just as comfortable in Los Angeles as he does in Dallas.
Doncic and Clippers reserve Terance Mann added yet another confrontation to their charged history together that dates back two years.
And a matchup that produced seven games of drama in the most recent playoffs generated even more.
Clippers star Paul George kept his name in the discussion for NBA most valuable player by sinking a three-pointer from the corner with only a few tenths of a second remaining on the game clock in regulation to force overtime — capping a comeback in which the Clippers, who led by 11 in the first half, had trailed by 10 with only 1:38 to play.
An arena’s worth of hands went skyward. George, meanwhile, turned to the crowd and slapped hands with anyone within reach before Mann barreled him over with a hug.
It was George’s first three-pointer of the night.
The Clippers (10-8) couldn’t sustain the momentum, losing 112-104 in overtime. George scored 26 points and Reggie Jackson added 31 for the Clippers.
Doncic scored 26 for Dallas (10-7), with the Clippers unable to saddle him with more fouls after he drew his fourth only minutes into the second half. Kristaps Porzingis had 31 points.
Until that George three-pointer, no sight was sweeter for the Clippers than that of starting forward Marcus Morris’ return to the court for the first time since Oct. 23.
Morris, who had injured his knee in June’s postseason, said during training camp that he did not require offseason surgery, but he was held out of every preseason game and when he did return, and made three of his 11 three-pointers in the regular season’s first two games, looked nothing like the forward who ranked among the NBA’s most accuracy high-volume three-point shooters last season.
“The biggest thing was the strength in his knee,” coach Tyronn Lue said before tipoff.
Like the return of Serge Ibaka this month after a prolonged absence because of back surgery, Morris’ reintroduction to the rotation wasn’t seamless. When a Maverick leaped to defend Morris in the corner, Morris put his head down, attacked the rim and drew a foul in the process from contact with Porzingis.
But he missed the free throw. Like the rest of the Clippers’ defense attempting to trap Doncic throughout the fourth quarter, he could be a step slow in rotating out to open shooters, such as Dorian Finney-Smith, whose three-pointer put the Mavericks ahead 100-92 with four minutes to play.
Morris’ corner three-pointer with five minutes to play cut Dallas’ lead to 94-92 and he blocked Porzingis at the rim later in the quarter. He scored 10 points with five rebounds in regulation, then committed a turnover to begin overtime by throwing the ball away.
But his production was nearly beside the point.
His return would have been a boost at any time but was especially needed two days after Nicolas Batum, who has shifted from the second unit to the starting lineup in Morris’ absence, entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Batum is expected to miss at least a couple of more games in the team’s six-game homestand.
Morris provides more than catch-and-shoot ability.
Knowing Kawhi Leonard would miss a significant chunk of this season while recovering from knee surgery, the Clippers envisioned Morris absorbing some of the mid-range, post-up opportunities that Leonard made his signature.
“It’s gonna be tough just being out, and just the speed of the game,” Lue predicted before tipoff. “But just having him back on the floor and having him back into the normal routine, and he’s a big part of what we do, his shooting ability, another guy we’re able to post and kind of slow the game down.
“So it’s just good to have him back.”