The Dallas Mavericks came into tonight’s game (27-39) losers of four straight looking to knock of the Houston Rockets (41-25) winners of seven straight. The Rockets never were able to flex their muscles on the inferior Mavericks, largely because of James Harden’s foul trouble. The Mavericks were also able to stay in the game with some tough, gritty defense, even though they failed to shoot the ball well from deep. Dallas was led by Luka Doncic’s 19 points and Jalen Brunson’s 18 points, but Eric Gordon’s 26 points were enough to push Houston over the top, 94-93.
Here’s what we observed:
The Mavericks fumbled away a crucial third quarter stretch
In a pretty stunning development, Harden picked up his fifth foul with 11:40 left in the third quarter on an offensive foul call. At the time the Mavericks were down 58-54. The Rockets had struggled to shoot the ball, but the MVP hopeful set to miss the majority of the quarter was the break the Mavericks needed. Unfortunately, Dallas failed to capitalize on the opportunity and was actually outscored by one. By the time Harden checked at 3:03, the score was 73-68.
Dallas foolishly left Gordon open on a few threes (he was 5-of-13 on the night) and gave up a handful of second chance points (Clint Capela grabbed seven offensive boards). On the offensive end, the Mavericks shot just 29 percent during that eight minute stretch, further contributing to the missed opportunity.
Maxi Kleber lives!
After missing the last two games due to injury, Kleber returned to action in a big way tonight. In 31 minutes Kleber posted 10 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. Kleber’s impact extended beyond the stat line in this game. Multiple times he found himself on an island guarding Chris Paul and Harden and did a fantastic job of forcing a difficult, contested shot. Kleber has had an inconsistent season, with tall highs and deep lows, but tonight was another high for the Wurzburg native.
Gutsy ending all the way around
The Mavericks were in this game largely in part because Harden and Paul’s struggles on the offensive end. Harden was plagued with foul trouble and could never quite find a groove, but the Rockets’ backcourt combined to go 9-of-36 from the field and 5-of-23 from deep with eight turnovers. Late in the fourth, the Mavs doubled Harden off ball screens and it proved effective in forcing other players to make plays.
On the other side, Doncic had another absurd game. The rookie struggled to shoot but still managed 19 points, a career high 15 rebounds and nine assists. Late in the game Doncic finished a fast break layup but came up gimpy running back up the court. The next offensive possession he could barely initiate the offense. Rick Carlisle tried to sub him out, but it appeared Doncic refused because he was back out on the floor out of the timeout. With the game on the line, he clearly wanted to be out there.The kid has no quit in him and it was evident in his post-game emotions after a heart breaking loss.
The last play
If you would have told me the Mavericks would have the ball with the chance to win against the Rockets I probably would have scoffed at the thought, but that’s exactly what happened when Dallas gathered a Houston miss with about seven seconds left in the game. Interestingly, Rick Carlisle opted not to call a timeout and let the 19-year-old make a play unscripted. For some reason Doncic hesitated ever so slightly when he got the ball 90-plus feet from the basket which set the play back from the start. When Doncic crossed half court he was nearly triple teamed, so he shoveled the pass over to Jalen Brunson. Paul was able to contest Brunson’s shot and get a piece ending the game.
After the game Carlisle spoke to the media about his decision to not call a timeout.
“I feel in those situations if you have playmakers you trust, you’re going to have a better chance at an open look if you go, and it didn’t work out,” Carlisle explained post game. “In hindsight I should have called a timeout. I trust Luka and Brunson and the other guys in there to make a play. We just weren’t able to.”
It’s easy to find fault looking back at the decision, but if Brunson had made the shot, we all might be singing a different tune. It’s a toss up decision, but the final result sheds a negative light on the matter. Either way, the Mavericks competed until the last second, and competitive games in March are fun in comparison to the past two seasons.