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3 observations after the Dallas Mavericks hold on against the San Antonio Spurs, 104-99

The Mavericks improve to 2-0 within the division

San Antonio Spurs v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks won their second straight home game, defeating the San Antonio Spurs 104-99. Luka Doncic led the Mavericks with 25 points and five assists. Dejounte Murray led the Spurs in defeat with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists.

The Mavericks played some of their worst basketball of the season to start the game Thursday night. Between poor pick-and roll-defense, lethargic offense helmed by Luka Doncic, and solid shot making from the Spurs, Dallas found themselves down 23-3 with five minutes left in the quarter. But Jalen Brunson and the reserves finally helped the Mavericks find some life in the last three minutes. A Reggie Bullock three finally broke the double digit mark for Dallas. Then a Frank Ntilikina three and Willie Cauley Stein lay in pulled the Mavericks within 10. San Antonio scored just two points in the final five minutes and found themselves up 25-15 after twelve minutes of action.

Dallas continued to chip at the lead as the Spurs could not score. The Mavericks continued to hang around, on the strength of a 16-0 run which started in the first quarter. Then both Brunson and Maxi Kleber caught fire from distance. A Brunson three actually gave Dallas a 30-29 lead, then the two teams would trade leads for the rest of the half. Doncic buried a three with 23 seconds remaining to retake the lead for Dallas, but Bryn Forbes hit a buzzer-beating three, and the Mavericks found themselves trailing 49-47 at the half.

Following the break, the Mavericks again appeared stuck in the mud offensively, though they were taking good, open shots within the flow of the offense. The Spurs kept the Mavs at arm’s length for most of the frame, extending their lead to the four or five point range before Dallas would cut it down to two or three. Kleber saved a wild attempt from Cauley-Stein around the two-minute mark, which led to Ntilikina’s second three of the game to tie things at 73 each. Following a timeout, Kleber hit his third three of the contest to give Dallas a lead 76-73 lead. The Spurs would tie the game again through three free throws, and each team would start the fourth quarter with 76 points each.

The back-and-forth nature of the scoring continued to start the fourth, with the Spurs taking a lead, Dallas roaring right back, only for San Antonio to answer again. Through solid defense from the Mavericks and sloppy offense from the Spurs, Dallas managed to hold on to a lead starting around the nine-minute mark. What started as a 84-82 lead grew to a 94-86 lead with under six minutes remaining. A Doncic three gave the Mavericks a double digit lead at the five-minute mark, which would help provide enough of a cushion for Dallas to hold on. Despite some very familiar sloppy play down the stretch for the Mavericks, Dallas walks away with a 104-99 victory. The Mavericks are now 3-1 and play tomorrow night in Denver.

Now, some observations

The bench has been the most consistent aspect to the Mavericks this season

Jalen Brunson’s been absolutely electric this season, arguably their most consistent player through four games. With Doncic appearing half asleep to start the game, it was Brunson, paired with forward Maxi Kleber, who got things going for Dallas and led them to the victory.

These two players gave the Mavericks a little bit of everything Thursday night, with Brunson scoring and dishing like an All-Star. Kleber appeared as if he came from the 2019-20 season, connecting on 3-of-7 from deep and tying his career high with six blocks. He had 35 blocks in all of last season, so that’s pretty ridiculous.

The Dallas starters still have plenty to figure out, but for now it seems the bench will help keep pushing the Mavericks along when they need a boost.

Individual defensive efforts stood out

I’m not privy to any advanced stats, writing this right after the game, but the efforts of a number of Dallas players stood out in my notes. Past the aforementioned Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith felt everywhere in terms of getting deflections and being in passing lanes. Frank Ntilikina is making the case for more minutes with his defensive play; his long arms caused the Spurs plenty of problems. I swear I saw a Tim Hardaway Jr. force-out on the baseline in the fourth quarter. Even Luka Doncic had a moment or two of stout defense.

Can the Mavericks get off to a decent start?

This is now four straight games to start the season where Dallas looks some level of bad to start the game. Three of these games have been against projected lottery opponents and that’s got to be unacceptable both to head coach Jason Kidd and the Mavericks players.

Luka Doncic needs to take more ownership. His start against San Antonio was nothing short of awful and the team’s energy mimicked his, which is to say lethargic. A big reason I’ve advocated so hard for Goran Dragic is Luka needs some internal accountability from teammates to push him when he seems like he’d rather be doing something else. The energy changed for the better when Doncic exited the game, and that’s frustrating.

It’s not all on Doncic, but we’ve seen a couple of different starting line ups and various things emphasized on offense to start the games now, and the result each time is a poor start. The Mavericks must do better.

Here’s our lastest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.