They didn’t pick up Marcus Morris Sr. to lose him in the 11th minute of a playoff game. They didn’t acquire Reggie Jackson in the hopes he would be Mr. October.
No one really thought the Clippers had to deepen what was the deepest roster in the league, but they did, just before the pandemic arrived. On Sunday you looked at them and you couldn’t see the bottom. The Clippers dismissed Dallas, 113-97, to win their first-round playoff series, 4-2.
It also was their first series victory since 2015 and, like everything else about this franchise, was not assured. Their 23-point lead shrunk to six, with Luka Doncic pouring in nine points in a three-possession span.
But Jackson, who came to the Clippers in February after a contract buyout in Detroit, popped a 3-pointer on the first play of the fourth quarter and then hit three more. By then Kawhi Leonard had shoved Doncic off the stage, and the Clippers had put a complicated errand behind them.
“We’ve been through a lot of different scenarios in this series,” Morris said. “We’ve gotten better at closing games, but we were up 20 in Game 4 and we let them battle back. We came together, and we got better as we went.”
Morris did not have much to do with it, at least not statistically. Late in the first quarter Doncic drove the lane, and he and Morris somehow got pretzeled up.
Morris punctuated the play by slapping Doncic aside the head. Doncic scrambled to his feet with bad intentions, but the Mavericks’ Boban Marjanovic intercepted him, which saved Doncic an ejection at the very least.
“It was a terrible play,” Doncic said later. “What can I say? It’s two games in a row that he did something like that. I really hoped the first one wasn’t on purpose, but looking back on the foul in this game, you know what I think. I don’t want to deal with that kind of player.”
“The first one” involved Morris’ foot on Doncic’s sore ankle in Game 5, a move that removed Doncic’s shoe but did not appear intentional.
“Today I thought it was a hard foul,” Morris said. “I don’t want people to mistake playing hard with hurting somebody. Tim Hardaway had an extremely hard foul on Paul George the other day. I’m physical, that’s just what it is. I’m a grown man and people can say what they want to say.
“It’s not like I didn’t touch any of the ball. Unfortunately I hit him over the shoulders. I know that the rule and that it’s a flagrant-two (foul). I’ve said a lot of times, he (Doncic) is a young player and he is going to be the face of the league. I’ve taken all that into account. But if it had been anyone else. it wouldn’t have been taken out of context.”
Doncic, like any fabulous player, will inevitably get his numbers. It seems silly to say the Clippers held him down when he scored 36 points with nine rebounds and nine assists.
But since the other Mavericks were a clunky 7-for-28 from the 3-point line, Dallas needed Doncic to be interstellar. He wasn’t the best player on the floor, not with Leonard pounding away for 33 points on 14 for 23 shooting, hitting all four of his fourth quarter shots, and flicking away Dallas’ every attempt at a real comeback.
However, Morris was a part of the early double teams that made Doncic surrender the ball to teammates, few of whom had solid plans for it. When Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. go 6-for-25, Dallas is out of answers. When Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell miss 10 of 13 shots, the Clippers just flip the page on the menu.
Morris adds another wing defender who can be menacing offensively, the way Maurice Harkless wasn’t. With Morris and Jackson on board, the Clippers closed out the regularly-scheduled season with seven wins in nine games.
When you have an equally-talented twin brother (Markieff, of the Lakers) and you grow up in the citywide combat zone that is Philadelphia, your edges get sharpened. Marcus and Markieff turn 31 on Wednesday.
“I’m physical, no way around it, but a dirty player I’m not,” Marcus said. “I hang my hat on being tough. When guys see me, they know it’ll be a tough matchup and that I will bring all that I’ve got. I’m happy about that.”
The Clippers take one more step toward the deep end. If their feet finally reach the bottom in the middle of October, they trust they’ll be visible.