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3 things we learned as the Dallas Mavericks fall to the Chicago Bulls, 118-108

Costly late-game mistakes doom the Doncic-less Mavericks.

Dallas Mavericks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks lost a disappointing game to the Chicago Bulls to fall to 2-4 on the season Sunday night. Jalen Brunson led the Mavericks with 31 points, five rebounds, and seven assists. Zach Lavine had a stellar game for the Bulls, dropping 39 points on 14-of-25 shooting.

The Mavericks rolled out the same starting lineup as usual, replacing the hurt Luka Doncic with Jalen Brunson. The offense struggled early on, and the Bulls quickly raced out to a 10-4 lead. Brunson quickly turned that around with a great spurt, hitting all sorts of acrobatic shots and two three-pointers to give Dallas a 22-18 lead. The score was tied at 31 each after the first quarter.

The two sides continued to seesaw early in the second, as Boban Marjanovic had productive minutes in the paint but gave up looks at the other end to the likes of Patrick Williams and Thaddeus Young. Brunson continued his perfect shooting upon coming back into the game, giving the Mavericks a 48-47 lead. Josh Richardson got it going too, but poor defensive rebounding gave the Bulls extra chances, and the Mavericks led 61-60 at half.

Things stayed deadlocked as the second half began, though both teams seemed to cool off offensively: Dallas started 2-for-9 and Chicago started 3-for-9, and the score was tied 67-67 after five minutes. Zach Lavine continued to be the driver of the Bulls offense, hitting the 30-point mark with four minutes left in the period, and setting Coby White up for a nice three that gave the Bulls a 74-73 advantage. The Mavericks ran out of steam to end the quarter, and the Bulls led 86-81 to end the third.

The Bulls were easily the more aggressive team to start the fourth quarter, and seemingly couldn’t miss for a couple minutes, exemplified by deep and last-second three’s by Coby White and Denzel Valentine. The Mavericks also gave up 6 offensive rebounds, almost in a row, allowing the Bulls to build a 100-91 lead. A string of stops and foul calls brought the Mavericks within four, but the Bulls scored four points to maintain a six point lead with two minutes to go. The Mavericks went cold in clutch time, and the fourth-quarter mistakes proved to be too much, as the Bulls won 118-108.

Some thoughts:

Defense, no, everything around the rim continues to be an issue

Before tonight’s game, the Mavericks were giving up a league-worst 71% of attempts around the rim. That stat did not improve tonight, as the Bulls were able to get pretty much whatever they wanted in the paint. Each of the Mavericks front court options had their own set of problems defensively.

Powell in particular was torched at the rim, continuing his trend of being statistically the worst defender at the rim by far among starting centers (81.3% opponent field goal percentage at the rim). Willie Cauley-Stein’s frequent errors in decision making were exemplified by an attempt to draw a charge on the eight-inches-shorter Coby White while being firmly planted in the restricted zone, resulting in a soul-crushing and-1 for White.

The overall rebounding statistics were bad for the Mavericks; almost every time they had a good defensive stand, they would be completely out of position to secure the board. The Mavericks are the third-worst rebounding team in the league, pulling just 40 a game, and it is clearly a result of a lack of equal parts effort, positioning, size, and hops. The Bulls took advantage, scoring 16 second-chance points off of 11 offensive boards.

Another nightmarish shooting performance, even without Luka’s three-point attempts

The Mavericks had another putrid shooting night from both the three-point and free-throw lines, going 11-of-42 from three and 19-of-27 on freebies. Their 26% mark from three is a full 10 percentage points below last year’s average. Tonight’s three-point attempts were a combination of missed wide-open looks and contested, off-balance shots that effectively stopped going in around the fourth quarter mark.

That timestamp is also when the Maverick’s free throw shooting woes came to haunt them yet again: in the final period, Richardson, Hardaway and Kleber missed a free throw, and Cauley-Stein missed both his attempts.

Hardaway deserves his own shout-out after tonight, as he delivered a 2-for-12 performance from three, many of his looks wide open. He is now shooting 32% from three on the season, much worse than his start to last season which drew its own criticism. That problem mostly worked itself out by moving him to the starting lineup, but as a starter this season, his shot has been broken. As with most of the other problems described, whether this will be worked out as the season progresses or is a genuine cause for concern is up to you to decide.

Brunson has a night in Luka’s absence

After a modest shooting display over the first five games (46/27/80% shooting splits), Brunson turned in an absolutely spectacular first half. He shot 7-of-8 from the field, including a perfect 2-for-2 from distance and the free throw line. This was despite him hitting the deck HARD in the second quarter in a way similar to his season-ending injury against the Hawks last February.

His 31 point total tonight is the second most of his career, but he began to cool down towards the fourth quarter. And, when the game began to slip away in the final period, Brunson began to make some of the crunch time mistakes that Mavericks fans saw last season. This includes a poor three-point attempt with 2:40 to go, followed by a turnover which allowed the Bulls to run another 30 seconds off the clock.

Brunson excels when tasked as a “get-buckets” guy of sorts without any other constraints on his game, and he usually delivers in those situations. The troubles begin when he is asked to do too much, especially if the ask is to manage a clutch-time offense. The decision making has consistently worsened in late-game situations, and tonight was no exception.

The Mavericks play their second night of a back-to-back tomorrow in Houston against the Rockets at 7 p.m. CST.

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.