The Dallas Mavericks have made a habit out of coming up short in clutch time in the bubble, and that trend continued as they dropped another close game against the Portland Trailblazers, 134-131.
Outside of a red hot Kristaps Porzingis, things looked off for the Dallas Mavericks early, as they fell behind to Portland after a fast start. Sloppy play continued into the second quarter as the Mavericks fell behind by eight heading into the half.
Things finally started going right for Dallas in the third, connecting on multiple threes throughout the frame. Unfortunately, Dame Lillard was on a tear, connecting on threes, drives, and a whole lot of free throws. Despite trailing by three heading into the fourth, the Mavericks took a strong lead but collapsed once again in crunch time. Missed free throws and some questionable fouls doomed Dallas to fall late, 134-131.
Kristaps Porzingis continued his fantastic shooting in the restarting, pouring in 36 points on 12/17 shooting before fouling out late in the fourth quarter when a Carlisle challenge failed to overturn his sixth foul.
The Mavericks, for their part, played the game daring Damian Lillard to beat them; a game plan he was happy to oblige, scoring a career best-tying 61 points.
A Game defined by free throws
The Mavs were aggressive driving the ball throughout the game, getting in to the bonus early on in the second and third quarters and putting CJ McCollum and Josuf Nurkic into foul trouble. Too often, though, Dallas would return the favor - frequently fouling Portland’s jump shooters, and especially Dame Lillard. At one point in the third, as Portland couldn’t get a shot to drop, they were able to stay in the game by scoring 12 straight points solely from free throws.
Equally baffling and frustrating was how the game ended at the penalty stripe for Dallas. After a perfect 14/14 on free throws through three quarters, Dallas was only able to muster 68%, 13/19, from the line in the fourth as the game dwindled to its final moments.
Good 3 point shooting can hide a lot
Despite the ending, the shooting wasn’t all bad this game. Even in a losing effort, you don’t get to 131 points by shooting poorly. After a decent first half, Dallas caught fire from deep in the second half.
Porzingis, Dorian Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr and Maxi Kleber, in particular, powered the Mavs to a 12/22 second half behind the arc. Porzingis was a perfect 5 for 5, making his fouling out on a questionable offensive foul call hurt that much more. Certainly, he’s someone you would’ve liked to see get a chance at the last second shot Dallas had to tie the game.
In a way, when you’re playing against a player like Lillard who you’re simply incapable of slowing down, being able to find another gear on the offensive side of the ball isn’t a horrible game plan.
The bench scoring cascade
With Seth Curry missing the game with a lingering and mysterious leg injury, Trey Burke was promoted to the starting lineup. Not a bad thing on its face - Burke has played as well as could ever be asked after joining the team before the bubble.
However, (and this goes beyond Seth and speaks more to the fragility of the Mavericks’ team depth,) the change to the starting lineup caused a domino effect to ripple through the bench. By losing Burke’s scoring off the bench, the unit becomes largely ineffective for large stretches of time as it doesn’t really have a go to scorer. It’s strange for a team like Dallas, who in years past has had league-leading bench units, to find themselves so short staffed in the depth department.
Lineups tend to shorten in the playoffs, so perhaps this becomes less of an issue in the post season when the game becomes even that much more star powered. In which case, what we’ve seen from Bubble Luka and Bubble Porzingis should be heartening.
So this loss, and the Mavs continued inability to put away close games, hurts enough on its own. But what hurts more is knowing we let down the bubble Cinderella Phoenix Suns, who’s public support via live tweet was very endearing
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.