By all accounts the Dallas Mavericks have had a terrific season. Having not made the playoffs since 2015-16, they are all but guaranteed to reach post season play this year. It’s an impressive feat in Luka Doncic’s second NBA season while the team also worked off almost two years of rust from Kristaps Porzingis.
Maxi Kleber, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith are all having career years, while Seth Curry is proving for a second time Rick Carlisle’s offense is the Promised Land for lethal shooters.
However, after a four-month layoff something still isn’t sitting right after the Mavericks’ historic collapse against the Houston Rockets Friday night. I won’t rehash everything (we’ve done that here, here and here) but the Mavericks were up seven points with 45 seconds to go and managed to lose. We could count a myriad of reasons why they lost, but a missed free throw and failure to secure a rebound off the Rockets’ missed free throw is a good place to start.
“Give them credit, they made some amazing plays,” Carlisle told the media post game. “I take full responsibility for the loss. I want to keep the pressure off the players. They really played their butts off, but we were unable to make a few of the key plays we needed to make.”
While I understand I’m “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” here, I have a few problems with this. Rather than giving the Rockets credit, the Mavericks deserve all of the blame. Doncic and Curry missing a combined seven free throws while Kleber and Porzingis failed to block out on a rebound is a breakdown in the most fundamental sense.
In addition, hearing Carlisle take full responsibility after a collapse in the final minutes of a game seems like I’m living the movie Groundhog Day. We’ve heard this too many times this season. Of course he isn’t going to sit in front of the media and blame his historically great three-point shooter for missing a free throw, but this whole song and dance of Carlisle saying they were unable to make a few plays down the stretch is tiring even after a four month break.
When it was Doncic’s turn to face the music he attributed some of the loss to “bad luck” and also mentioned he had to play better and couldn’t shoot one for nine on his three point attempts.
Bless his sweet, young heart. Giving up an offensive rebound on a free throw is unequivocally not bad luck. It’s a lack of attention to detail and failure to do the small things correctly. It’s bad basketball.
Doncic went on to say how the Mavericks are “a young team” with “a lot to learn”
“We’ll be better for sure,” Doncic assured the media. “I know we’re going to get together when it matters most to the players, so I’m not worried about that.”
Like Carlisle’s response, I don’t expect Doncic to say anything different. After all, they are 14-22 in games within five points in the final five minutes. The team has had a lot of practice giving rehearsed answers. Maybe he’s right though. Experience is the best teacher, so maybe these are the lumps this team has to go through, though they seem to have an innate and uncanny way of stumbling over their own feet when it’s entirely avoidable.
Finally, I have trouble reconciling with Doncic’s comment about when the games matter the most. I could be losing the forest for the trees here, but the Mavericks’ goal in these eight seeding games is to avoid the Clippers. Beating the Rockets would have been a huge step forward in reaching that goal. Simply put, the games matter now.
The excitement building up to the restart was almost palpable, and Friday night’s loss might serve as a good reminder as to what this Mavericks team was and is. They are exciting, fun, dangerous and frustrating all at the same time. For better or for worse, the Mavericks picked up exactly where they left off.