The Dallas Mavericks fell to the Houston Rockets, 153-149. James Harden led all scorers with 49 points while also dishing eight assists and grabbing nine rebounds. Kristaps Porzingis was the high point man for Dallas in defeat with 39.
In their highest scoring combined first half this season, the Mavericks and Rockets came out firing. Porzingis posted early and attacked the basket often for 15 points in the half, while Harden scored 23 points on perfect shooting including nine free throws.
Luka Doncic looked out of sorts for most of the first quarter as the intense Houston defense frustrated him. But as Harden poured it on, Dallas simply hung around. Contributions from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke proved invaluable as the Mavericks tried to weather Harden’s barrage. The late entry of Boban Marjanovic helped Dallas cut into the slight Houston lead and the Mavericks ended up tying the game 42 all by quarter’s end.
A change in defensive philosophy on Harden, a more engaged Doncic, and a red hot Burke resulted in a 43 point outburst from Dallas in the second quarter. Doncic finally started scoring at the rim and the Mavericks repeatedly feasted on open threes. Meanwhile, Dallas’ defense started doubling Harden, which flustered Houston’s pace just enough. Harden only scored three points in the frame, and the Mavericks took an 85-75 lead into the half.
The third quarter would be no different than the first two. Though the Mavericks looked crisp to start the third, a pair of rough possessions resulted in a Houston run that eventually cut the Dallas lead to one. The Rockets’ defense clamped down hard on the sterling Dallas offense, but the Mavericks responded with a fiery run of their own, boosted by Doncic’s continued forays to the rim and Trey Burke possibly being unconscious from beyond the arc. Dallas led 119-108 after 36 minutes.
Things finally slowed down a bit in the first part of the fourth quarter, with both teams missing makable baskets. Dallas had multiple terrible possessions and the offense essentially ground to a halt. Houston crept back, and ultimately sent the game to over time.
The Mavericks and Rockets started extra basketball with 139 each. Dallas went up four despite some ugly offense from Doncic, but could not contain James Harden or score enough to keep pace. The Mavericks fell in a truly awful loss, 153-149.
Now, some things.
Yet another clutch time collapse
The Dallas Mavericks are now 14-22 in games within five points either way with five minutes left on the clock. In humiliating fashion, the Mavericks gave up a seven point lead in the final minute. The game was really lost in the middle of the fourth, as Dallas went over five minutes with just one made basket. Why spark plug Trey Burke sat for so long is a question for Rick Carlisle as trusty Seth Curry played one of his worst games of the season.
Why they simply stop doing what they do all game long as the clock winds down in the fourth does not make sense. They visibly tighten up and it’s incredibly frustrating to watch. It’s a hallmark of this team and perhaps a clear indicator of their youth and inexperience.
Free throws and turnovers
Nine missed free throws is embarrassing. Seth Curry and Luka Doncic accounting for seven of the nine is flat out gross. Curry in particular is just 66 percent in clutch time from the line this season. A limited sample, yes, but considering there’s a direct line between his miss and the Rockets forcing overtime, it has to be mentioned.
Doncic on the other hand, well there’s just not much more to say at the moment. His shooting is what currently holds him back from being a true MVP candidate. Both his threes and free throws are just not good enough.
Then there are the turnovers, all 20 of them. Dallas was so good at protecting the ball all year and they let the ball go or made bad decisions way too often. Doncic in particular was sloppy turning it over eight times himself.
Former Knicks come up huge for Dallas
Since I’m pretty sure we’ll have something up about Trey Burke soon, I don’t want to step on that future post too much, but it’s absolutely incredible that the three active players on the Dallas roster as a result from the 2019 Kristaps Porzingis trade (so Porzingis, Hardaway, and Burke) accounted for 94 of the 149 points for the Mavericks.
Porzingis in particular did so many great things for Dallas, scoring in a variety of ways and playing through some frustrating moments early on. His faceup game gave Houston so many problems and his willingness to shoot the three ball remains so important.
This great Luka play
Luka Doncic filled the stat sheet as always with 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists (and eight turnovers). But it was one play to start the second that I hope to see more of as thing tighten up.
As you can see, Luka makes a really cool “Iverson cut” and frees himself up for a lay in. Dallas just doesn’t do that much off ball with Doncic yet and there could be a variety of reasons for that. But this was the easiest he had things all game. They may want to consider more with the additional ball handlers they have now like Trey Burke.
The standings are shaky now
Dallas hasn’t officially clinched yet and this game would’ve been huge on many fronts. One loss doesn’t end their chances of moving up, but considering they are fighting for position with Houston this one hurts extra.
It’s just frustrating. But that’s sports sometimes. See everyone Sunday.
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.