The Mavericks were dead in the water Tuesday night against the Nuggets in Denver. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis were in the midst of their worst games as Mavericks while the Mavs starters were sluggish to start yet another game.
Denver likes to play at a slow place, with their methodical point center Nikola Jokic finding cutters from the top of the key. The Nuggets like to wear you down over time with precise cuts and motion in the half court, and it was working. Until Dallas made some late first quarter subs with Delon Wright and Jalen Brunson and the game changed significantly.
Pace increased dramatically. For whatever reason, there are times when Luka brings the ball up slowly to begin a possession. It was exasperated by Denver’s slower pace on Tuesday night and when Brunson and Wright checked in, they immediately picked things up. Wright played at a pace of 100.6 possessions per 48 minutes and Brunson was at 99. Consider the game itself had 93 possessions and Doncic played at 92.4 per 48 minutes. Point is, the game was slow when Wright and Brunson were on the bench. When they were in the game? Dallas attacked and attacked quickly.
Brunson and Wright combined for 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting and each time they were on the floor, Dallas made a run. They grabbed a 51-50 lead before Brunson checked out over midway through the second quarter and pushed the Mavericks to a nine point lead early in the fourth. They did this by not allowing the Nuggets to rest off misses, which was especially crucial with the Nuggets on the second night of a back to back. Doubly so when you consider Denver has Jokic at center — if you push the ball quickly, you can beat him down the floor, at times leaving the Nuggets without a big to guard the rim. Each time Brunson and Wright scored in transition, they did it by beating Jokic or backup center Mason Plumlee down the floor. It also helps to have a 7’3 center that can bomb from 30 feet, as Plumlee slowed up to take Porzingis at the top of the key during one of Brunson’s finishes on the break.
Of Wright and Brunson’s nine makes, eight of them were at the basket, with the other coming on the secondary break with a floater from Brunson in the lane. Their combined shot chart feels like it time traveled from 1958.
Brunson and Wright contributed in other ways as well, with Brunson having eight assists to Wright’s six, in addition to a really fun steal and score by Wright. With the Mavericks starting every first quarter in a hole so far this season, it begs the question of whether Dallas needs to make another starting lineup change.
Wright and Brunson have both started this season, with the two starting together against Portland. Perhaps a compromise could be to keep sharp-shooting Seth Curry with the starters (and more importantly, Luka), add Wright for his defense and penetration and then let Brunson keep cooking with second units. Regardless of how it shakes out, it’s clear Dallas needs these two to keep the pressure up all season. Teams will continue to sell out their defenses on Doncic and Porzingis, which means there are openings to take advantage of.
As the win against Denver showed, Wright and Brunson are certainly capable.