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Mavericks unravel in third quarter in loss to Suns, a familiar theme

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Poor third quarter performances are a staple of this team.

Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images

After two games, the Dallas Mavericks have been both impressive and gut-wrenchingly disappointing. Dallas can score with the best of them. Their best-ever offensive rating is testament to that. But when things get close or choppy in the second half, they wilt like orchids in the Texas heat.

Sunday night, against the Phoenix Suns, was more of the same inside the NBA Bubble. The Mavericks were having their way, scoring at will—until they weren’t. Instead of a late game collapse, like they experienced Friday against the Houston Rockets, it was their old friend, the third quarter, that sunk Dallas this time.

“The third quarter was the decisive part of the game, that’s pretty obvious,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said. “[We were outscored] 36-19. We did a few good things in the fourth to get right there again. When you play as poorly as we did in the third, you just leave too many things to chance. It’s unfortunate because we played—really the other three quarters were quite good.”

Poor performances in third quarters is an issue that seemingly transcends time with the Mavericks. Other than their poor clutch statistics, it’s a major tribulation for the team. As Carlisle notes, Phoenix outscored Dallas by 17 points. A big reason why is because they simply couldn’t hit a shot. The Mavs were 5-21, 23 percent, on field goals in the quarter.

Only three players found the bottom of the nylon from the floor in the quarter. Kristaps Porzingis hit three of his six shots. Delon Wright went one for four. Seth Curry, who came on strong with 14 first half points, went cold in the third. He made only one of his three shot attempts, totaling two points. They would be the only points he scored in the second half.

Luka Doncic didn’t make any of his shot attempts in the third quarter. However, as he did all night, he continued to attack and get to the free throw line. He ended the third going six-for-six at the charity stripe. With Doncic’s contribution, a total of four Mavs scored in the frame.

It’s more than scoring, though. There seems to be a mental disconnect when things start going poorly for this team in the third quarter. The effort on both ends simply isn’t there. The players are aware of it and it’s an issue they’re working on overcoming.

“We’ve been focusing on coming out strong in the third,” Porzingis said. “Today, again, we had this mental lapse for whatever reason at some moments and that’s something we’ve got to work through to take it to the next level, to not give the other team any room to breathe, to go out there and finish the game like we’re supposed to.”

There may have been something else at play against the Suns, too. Dallas Morning News reporter Brad Townsend witnessed a tense exchange between Tim Hardaway Jr., who had a night he’d like to forget, and Porzingis in the third. It isn’t unfair to speculate that it may have played a role in unsettling the team.

“I wouldn’t say we let our foot off the gas, we just got distracted with some things,” Curry said. “That’s what happened to us.”

Regardless of whatever rattled the Mavericks Sunday night, they know they must be better. Before the game started, they clinched a playoff berth for the first time since the 2015-16 season—a goal the team set for itself at the beginning of the season. If they have any hopes of advancing beyond the first round, they can’t afford to stumble like they have in the first two seeding games.

“That was the objective, to get to the playoffs this year,” Doncic said. “It doesn’t matter who you play. If you want to win, you’ve got to beat everybody. We’ve just got to learn from these mistakes. It’s the little details we do. We’ve got to start the third quarter stronger, be physical, and we’ve got to learn from that.”