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3 things we observed as the Mavericks outlast the Thunder, 105-103

The Mavericks took a Western conference elite down to the wire and squeaked out a victory at home.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks have the second most wins at home in the entire NBA, so it was no surprise to see them compete the Oklahoma City Thunder for the entirety of the game in the first set of a home-and home.

The Mavericks started the game slow, turning the ball over and letting the Thunder run up and down the court. Somehow Dallas was only down by two heading into the half, and in the third quarter they really turned it around.

But the Thunder were able to claw their way back in the fourth and take the lead midway through after being down by as many as 13. After Rick Carlisle subbed the starters in midway through the final quarter, the Mavericks were able to stabilize and retake the lead, only for Paul George to detonate in final frame and take the game over for the Thunder. But that didn’t bury the Mavericks as they weathered the George explosion and a six point lead with two minutes to go and made a few clutch plays to seal the victory, 105-103. George, who scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, finished the game with 36 points while Luka Doncic paced Dallas with 25 points and seven assists.

The Mavericks (17-18) and Thunder (22-13) get no rest and will prepare to tip again Monday night in Oklahoma City. But first, here’s what we saw tonight:

The Mavericks overcame turnovers

The Mavericks almost doomed themselves early committing seven first quarter turnovers that yielded seven extra points for the Thunder. Dallas was able to right the ship later, mainly in the third, by playing much more controlled and limiting the Thunder’s chances to get out and run. But the turnovers reared their ugly head again in the fourth and the Mavericks almost didn’t recover. For the game the Mavericks coughed it up 24 times which resulted in 20 points for the Thunder. Quite frankly it’s amazing the Mavericks overcame that. In addition to the miscues, the Mavericks also let the Thunder score 31 fast break points compared to four for the home team.

One area that helped stabilize the turnovers was...

Three-point defense

Granted, Westbrook is enduring one of the worst shooting seasons in his career and he shot eight total triples, the Mavericks were able to gain a significant advantage by limiting the Thunder to just 9-of-38 from behind the arc. On the other hand, Dallas connected on 14-of-39 from deep giving them a 15 point advantage from three. While Westbrook blanked from deep, George was another serious offender shooting 3-of-11, with two of those triples coming in his fourth quarter explosion.

Hats off to Dennis Smith Jr.

Smith started the game off on a horrible note. In the first quarter he had missed every shot attempt and had four turnovers. He looked well on his way to being benched in favor of J.J. Barea, but we have to give it up to him for battling his tail off and impacting the game in a huge way in the clutch. The first instance occurred with about 30 seconds left. Smith pushed the pace and drove to the basket only to have his drive cut off. He bounced it back out, froze the defender with a hesitation, then finished in traffic to put the Mavericks up one with 24 seconds left. We’ve been tough on Smith’s decision making, but this was a critical play that Smith made with smarts and skill.

The second example, and one that we’re growing accustomed to as the season progresses is Smith’s growing defensive prowess. With 15 seconds left in a one-point game, Smith gets isolated on George (who had scored 13 in the fourth, 36 in the game) and no help available based on the Thunder’s set. George gave every shake and shimmy, but Smith stayed glued to his hip and forced a step back fadeaway midrange jumper that clanked off the rim.

The second-year guard finished with 14 points and five rebounds shooting 50 percent from the field and two-of-five from deep. His shot continues to fall, but he is still leaving much to be desired as a playmaker. However, he’s still finding ways to impact the game in other ways. If you remember, Smith also played lockdown defense against Tobias Harris and came up with the game-saving block against the Los Angeles Clippers a month or so back. Smith may be going through some offensive growing pains, but he’s blossoming as a defender, and it’s one of the best developments of the season.