The Dallas Mavericks fell 106-102 to the Phoenix Suns in the 2020-21 season opener.
The Mavericks of 2019-20, holders of the most efficient offense in NBA history, were seemingly destroyed in the opening 24 minutes of the 2021 season. Luka looked slow and lost, the offense had little flow, and the shooting was abysmal. Despite all of this, Dallas found themselves down by just eight, 53-45, at halftime.
The Mavs picked it up in the third quarter; Josh Richardson and Tim Hardaway Jr. opened up the period with back to back threes. Luka found his rhythm, scoring 11 of his 32 points in the frame. Josh Richardson pitched in energy on defense as well as offense to help keep Dallas within striking distance.
After Jalen Brunson led a comeback to tie the game at 96, the Suns outscored the Mavs 10-6 down the stretch to spoil Dallas’ opening night.
The Preseason Means Nothing
The story of the Mavericks’ brief preseason was great shooting and solid bench play. The three point shooting was non-existent, and other than a short stretch in the middle of the fourth quarter, the bench play was not there either.
A 9-of-37 (25 percent) shooting night from beyond the arc will not get it done most nights in the league, and it wasn’t enough tonight. It remains to be seen if Luka really improved his shooting from the outside, as he put up six 3-pointers and saw none fall.
The Dallas bench combined for 33 points, which doesn’t seem too terrible, but when you take into account that this is inflated by the Jalen Brunson run in the fourth quarter, you can see how little effect they had on the game. James Johnson was scoreless in 14 minutes off the bench in his Mavericks debut.
Never again should we take seriously anything we see when the games don’t count.
Josh Richardson Looks Like The X-Factor
It was no secret the Mavs valued defense this offseason, and Josh Richardson was their key defensive acquisition. He looked great on defense, moving well and disrupting passes as well as contesting shots. This was especially apparent by the job he did on Devin Booker, who was held to a quiet 22 points and a not-so-silent eight turnovers.
After scorching long-range shooting carried his offense in the preseason, he was an unimpressive 2-of-7 from three against the Suns. Richardson showed promise as a playmaker, highlighted by his jumper that went around the rim five times before falling and his beautiful assist to Dorian Finney-Smith in the third quarter. He finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, and if he can get his shooting up to where he showed it can be, he will be the perfect compliment to Luka Doncic.
The Mavericks’ Crunch Time Woes Continue
The Mavs once again found themselves in an all too familiar place: a game within 5 points, with less than five minutes to play. A year ago, 20 of the Mavericks’ 32 losses came at the hands of a “clutch time loss” and now their first and only loss of the new season comes in the same way.
The Mavs had their chances. A Luka step-back three and Maxi Kleber top-of-the-key three that missed the mark in the final two minutes hurt, but after a missed free throw by Devin Booker, the door was still open. Dallas, down three, forced Booker into a missed shot with less than 10 seconds to go, but failed to secure the rebound and Phoenix sealed it at the line.
Possibly the only question as large as if Dallas’ defense would improve, was the question of whether they could flip a number of clutch losses they suffered last year into clutch wins. As of right now, the answer looks like no, as they failed to convert enough down the stretch to sneak out a win in Phoenix.