There aren’t many positives to take from a night like tonight. The game was relatively close throughout, but the Mavericks just lacked the necessary level of execution it takes to win an NBA game. The Phoenix Suns prevailed, besting Dallas down the stretch to win 111-105 and hand Dallas its fifth straight loss.
In the first half, the Mavs were able to hang tough, but never able to stretch out a lead. The offense was noticeably stagnant, and the defense was... fine. Thanks to a nifty tip-in from Willie Cauley-Stein, the Mavs managed to tie up the game heading into the half.
The second half is where things got interesting.
On the Mavs’ first offensive possession in the third quarter, Luka Doncic looked dejected. He hung out 30 feet from the basket and let Josh Richardson and Cauley-Stein run a two-man game that was less than pretty. Somehow, the possession ended in a successful Cauley-Stein midrange jumper. At this point, things didn’t look like they were going to go the Mavs’ way.
But then, Luka went nuclear. He was lights out in the third quarter and it turned everything around. The Mavs got out to a 15 point lead, and things were actually looking up. Unfortunately, as quickly as things turned positive, they turned negative. The Suns locked in at the end of the third quarter and never looked back.
Chris Paul in the fourth quarter is one of the most dangerous players in the NBA, and the Mavs weren’t able to go shot-for-shot with him late in the game. Here are three things from the loss.
Willie Cauley-Stein had a surprisingly positive impact on the game
It’s no secret that Willie Cauley-Stein isn’t exactly a world breaker. He’s a long, flawed center that does some things well and a lot of things poorly. But tonight, in Kristaps Porzingis’ absence, Cauley-Stein was surprisingly good. In 30 minutes, he finished with 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field to go along with nine rebounds and four blocks.
More than anything, I liked Cauley-Stein’s energy level. He had active hands on defense, was aggressive rolling to the rim, and overall, just looked like he belonged on a professional basketball court — something that hasn’t always been said about him.
I hope the Mavs don’t find themselves in a position where they have to rely on Cauley-Stein very often, but tonight, he was solid. At this point it’s impossible to expect an consistency, but at least he gave the team something Saturday night.
Energy is contagious
This is a basic basketball concept that all high schoolers know. It’s the reason benches stand up to dole out high fives when a player comes off the court. It’s the reason a guy like Marcus Smart makes over $10 million per year. Energy is contagious, and it’s also vital to success.
24 hours ago in Utah, the Mavs had no energy. It was embarrassing. Tonight, they did a better job of turning that around, but it still wasn’t great. The bench looked engaged throughout the game, celebrating accordingly when something cool happened on the court, and when Dallas went on that nice run in the third quarter, it looked like the team was having fun. That didn’t last for the entire game, but at least it made an appearance tonight. The Mavs should try to have fun more often.
The need for a secondary playmaker is more obvious than ever
The simple fact of the matter is the Mavs don’t have a qualified offensive initiator not named Luka Doncic. When he isn’t on the floor, it’s gross. Like, really, really gross.
If Porzingis isn’t a guy who can get his own shot (and make said shot), then what do they have? Trey Burke? Jalen Brunson? Josh Richardson? Those guys are good enough to beat bad teams in the regular season, but they’re not good enough to beat playoff teams. Something needs to change — ASAP.