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3 things we observed as the Mavericks topple the Trail Blazers, 102-101

The Mavericks tightened up on the defensive end to cap off an impressive comeback against the Trail Blazers.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers tipped off for a Sunday matinee game of basketball as the Mavericks are fighting for their playoff lives while the Trail Blazers are jockeying for playoff seeding in a crowded Western Conference.

The first quarter was a tightly contested match as the Mavericks took a 25-24 lead after one thanks to Portland shooting only 37.5 percent in the frame. The Blazers flipped the switch in the second quarter and connected on 62.5 percent of their attempts while Dallas shot only 30.8 percent. The Mavericks made a strong run midway through the quarter to stay within striking distance but Portland took a 57-47 lead into the half.

The game held serve for most of the third quarter, and the Mavericks even caught a break when Jusuk Nurkic exited the game with 7:38 left with four fouls, but Damian Lillard went supernova (more on that later) and Portland was able to take a 92-78 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Mavericks looked dead to rights after Rodney Hood made a jumper to put the Blazers up 96-81 with 10:43 left in the game, but the Mavs responded with a 21-5 run to close the game out with some exceptional play from Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber to notch their 26th victory of the season. Dallas was led by Doncic’s 28 points and moves to 26-29 while Portland was paced by Lillard’s 30 points and falls to 33-22.

Lillard’s absurd 3rd quarter and strange fourth quarter

Lillard was strangely quiet for the entirety of the first two and a half quarters, but something flipped midway through the third and Dame absolutely went off for eight straight baskets and 21 total points in the third quarter. He was throwing rocks into the ocean and could not miss. He came off screens and flipped it in from deep. He took his man into the paint and hit some fallaway jumpers. He could do no wrong and it looked like the game would be wrapped up early.

But for whatever reason, Lillard disappeared in the fourth quarter and scored only two points after his 21 point outburst. On one of the first possessions of the fourth quarter, Lillard used the ball screen and Dwight Powell, rather than sag off and give Lillard room to attack, blitzed the action and forced Lillard to give it up. That was a different look that caused a bit of disruption. Dorian Finney-Smith’s length also caused some discomfort, and Kleber’s paint presence altered a few of Lillard’s attempts in the final minute.

Luka Doncic and THJ’s brilliance

There aren’t enough words to describe Doncic, so let’s start with Hardaway. In his third game as a Maverick, the former Knick was instrumental in helping the Mavericks conquer one of the West’s playoff teams. He pumped in 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting and showed some dynamic play that’s been lacking at the two/three for the past few seasons. Hardaway is a fluid athlete and it shows when he’s finishing lobs off the break or in the half court set. He had one play in particular where he gathered a loose ball, tight roped the sideline and made a hard beeline to the basket and slammed it home. He struggled from deep (2-of-8) and there will most definitely be games in which he doesn’t shoot 50 percent, but this was an encouraging game from the Mavericks’ newest shooting guard.

And Doncic. Man, is this kid incredible. He’s struggled to shoot in recent games, and today was similar, but he still finds ways to impact the game. Today he finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists (9/20 and 4-10 from three). He was masterful in the fourth quarter, but this is nothing new. Doncic is a savant in the pick-and-roll. He has mastered the ability to put the defender on his back and probe until he can either finish at the rim, or dish it to his big man or a shooter in the corner. There is only time separating him from his eventual Rookie of the Year nod.

The defense came up huge in the fourth

The Trail Blazers beat up the Mavericks in the first three quarters. Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic especially did their damage with Nurkic being a pest in the paint. The Blazers scored 58 total points in the paint and grabbed nine more rebounds, but the Mavericks were able to find their defensive footing in the fourth quarter and change the complexion of the game in an instant.

Portland shot a measly 18 percent in the fourth quarter (3-of-16) and the Mavericks were able to outscore the Blazers 24-9 even finishing the game on a 21-5 run. Finney-Smith was huge in disrupting some of the flow Lillard gained in the third, and Kleber met countless Trail Blazer drives at the rim. Before today Portland was 33-0 when leading after three quarters, but the Mavericks turnaround on the defensive end helped put a blemish on that now imperfect mark.

The Mavericks are back in action tomorrow night in Houston and will look to build momentum on a good Sunday afternoon win.