A rusty Dallas Mavericks squad hosted the San Antonio Spurs Thursday night at the American Airlines Center. It had been four days since the Mavericks played basketball, following a catastrophic collapse against the Toronto Raptors Sunday.
It was clear early on that not only were the Mavericks coming off Holiday, but they were also working to reintegrate their superstar Luka Doncic, who had essentially missed the last five games with a sprained ankle. This was Doncic’s first game after it was officially announced that he signed on to the Jumpman team in a lucrative shoe deal.
It was a mostly lazy, messy game that lacked rhythm, with both teams shooting poorly for long stretches. And just when it felt like the Mavericks had found their legs, going up by 13 late in the third, the Spurs came roaring back to keep the game close.
Ultimately the story of the game was the outside shooting from the Mavericks that made the difference (echoes from the preview). It took getting to the fourth quarter, when the Mavericks went 7-of-13 from three to widen the gap. The Mavericks grabbed their 20th victory of the season, beating the Spurs 102-98.
If you see nothing else from this game, see this:
Pass of the year? @sdotcurry | @luka7doncic | #MFFL pic.twitter.com/wzYgXddcSk— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) December 27, 2019
DOE DOE BLOCK— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) December 27, 2019
DOE DOE 3 @doefinney_10 | #MFFL pic.twitter.com/wduvRkJmAN
Long range connection
The Mavericks looked a little too sluggish early, as both Doncic and the team tried to recover from days off. But once one player found a rhythm it ignited everyone from deep. The Mavericks went 16-of-40 from deep tonight, and it was the difference. The starters connected on 10 threes (and that’s with Doncic hitting just one).
It’s no secret that it’s a major part of the Mavericks’ game plan, but on nights when things look messy it’s important to have that in your back pocket.
Tim Hardaway Jr. has been a great surprise for the Mavericks this season in a starting role. He’s been locked in and doesn’t get enough credit for how seamlessly he stepped into a spot the Mavericks were searching for.
And he’s not just doing one thing. THJ connected on 7-of-14 field goal attempts tonight against the Spurs, and went 50-percent from three and two. Being able to catch kick outs from Doncic and connect is important, but the next phase — attacking closeouts to hit from the midrange or in the lane — is equally important. It’s nice to see the full scope of Hardaway’s game come into full focus.
The Return of Luka
Healed enough from an ankle sprain that sidelined him four-plus games, Doncic made his return Thursday night. While he needed time to find some rhythm in his passing game and outside shot (three turnovers, 1-of-6 from three), Luka was moving well from the tip.
It helps when you get to make your return against a slower team, but Doncic looked light on his feet and comfortable taking defender off the dribble in isolation. Luka finished up with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, and played 33 minutes.
It was apparent that the team was readjusting to Doncic being back in the lineup, but equally clear was how easily Luka can play the game. It was a stretch in the second quarter where, a few possessions in a row, Doncic destroyed LaMarcus Aldridge in the pick-and-roll either scoring in the lane or finding Dwight Powell on the dive.
In his on-court interview on TNT after the game, Doncic described his return as “feeling like I was running a marathon”, but he still found ways to be effective. He’ll get one more tune-up against the Golden State Warriors before facing the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
Here’s the postgame podcast, Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you can’t see the embed below “More from Mavs Moneyball”, click here. And if you haven’t yet, subscribe by searching “Mavs Moneyball podcast” into your favorite podcast app.