It’s hard to imagine a team easier to hate in today’s NBA than the Los Angeles Clippers. Never in my life have I seen a team that vocally or physically complains to referees throughout 48 minutes than these guys. At a certain point, watching them almost becomes unbearable, as was the case during the Mavs 97-95 win on Thursday night.
I’m not one to rail against arguing with a referee, but what the Clippers do, and somehow manage to get away with 82 nights out of the year, is comically over-the-top. Never was that more evident than during their attempted bullying of J.J. Barea midway through the third quarter of this meeting at the AAC. But J.J., to his credit, was having none of it.
The result of that play, in a micro sense, was J.J.’s ejection. But in a macro sense, the foolishness galvanized the Mavs to cross the finish line and put the Clippers, and all of their antics, to bed. The play brought the Mavs crowd into the game at another level, and while J.J. certainly wished he could have stayed in the game, in this instance, it may have a been a major factor in what transpired over the last 17-plus minutes of action.
Dirk Nowitzki termed the flagrant-2 ruling against Barea as "Just weak. ... It's tough to tell these days in this league what's a flagrant-1, what's a tech. I'm lost, and I think so are the refs."
Added Mavs coach Rick Carlisle: "Watching (Blake) Griffin's cat-ate-the-canary smile tells you the story of that play. That's all you have to look at ... “It energized the building. It got our team going.''
The Mavs were able to smile themselves having trotted out a new starting lineup to combat the powerful Clippers first five, with Carlisle opting to move center Nerlens Noel into the starting lineup while sliding Seth Curry over to the point in favor of Yogi Ferrell.
The result: Some pretty damn good basketball.
Curry and Harrison Barnes seemed to be the biggest benefactors of the new-look lineup, as they managed to find their feet in their two-man game after some recent struggles. Curry finished the game as the Mavs leader in scoring with 23 points (9-of-14 shooting) and four assists, while Barnes added 21 of his own, after tallying just five against the Warriors on Tuesday.
It's worth noting that HB was two-way clutch here, first in the late-going on the offensive end ...
And then on the defensive end with a smart steal of Griffin ...
“I have to give credit to our coaching staff,'' Barnes said. "They scouted that play well before the game. We knew it was coming to Blake and he was going to try to make a play I just tried to play good defense and I was in the right spot and the right time.”
Meanwhile, Nowitzki was his usual solid self as well, adding 14 points, four rebounds and two steals on 7-of-12 shooting.
Noel, who was tasked with slowing the Clippers duo of (the forever-boo-worthy) DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, performed extremely well in his first start since early February. He would end the game with eight points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 33 minutes of high-energy play. But as is usually the case with Noel, his presence was felt more outside of the stat book than in it.
“It’s a lineup that we need to look at,'' said Carlisle of Noel and Curry in these spots. "The numbers on them were good tonight; they were a pretty significant plus in the game, so that’s a good sign. We got to look at Curry at point with a really conventional team out there. We got a look at Noel with Dirk and Barnes. We got to see how things would shake out with Barnes at the 3. This is the time to look at that stuff.''
"This is the time''? Is that a tiny hint at concession to Dallas' true fate? (See more Mavs-Clippers Quoteboard here.)
Besides Dallas not seemingly playoff-bound, the only other thing that didn't work out here was Wes Matthews, who has had some real struggles since the All-Star break, and continued that down-trend here, scoring just five points on 1-of-8 shooting from the floor. (There are other candidates for "The Dirkie,''though ... you vote here!)
It was, from a Mavs fan perspective at least, a satisfying victory, but as to what it means in the overall grand scheme of things for this season? Not whole lot. At 31-40, the Mavs are still three games back of Denver, and 2.5 behind the Portland Trailblazers after their win over New York. But at least for now, Dallas can take satisfaction in defeating a team many thought of as a contender at the beginning of the season.
Dallas will take the floor once again on Saturday night, when the Toronto Raptors (43-29) and the red-hot DeMar DeRozan enter the AAC for the second matchup of the season between the two teams. Dallas came up well short against Toronto in the previous matchup earlier this month, but hope that the addition of Noel (who missed the previous game in Toronto due to injury), will help to even the odds.