In their first game of the season without Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks came out firing and jumped out to an 8-0 lead on the Phoenix Suns. Devin Booker put the Suns on his back and pulled Phoenix back into the game. The two teams traded baskets in the second half of the quarter, only for Phoenix to finally start hitting from downtown. The Suns went on a 10-3 run to close out the first frame and the Mavericks found themselves down 25-22.
The grindy feel of the first continued into the second. Every time the Suns would look poised to build on a lead, the Mavericks would get a stop and hit a shot. Jalen Brunson connected on a few close range shots early and a three late in the quarter to shake off a rough start. Frank Ntilikina hit his second three in quarter to tie things at 38. Dallas found Porzingis twice in the frame for trailing threes, the last one of which actually gave the Mavericks a 46-45 lead into the half.
Things finally, finally picked up a bit for the Mavericks in the third period, or at least it felt that way. Dallas built up a 59-52 lead by the 7:30 mark on the strength of solid defense and strong shooting from three (7-of-11 in the period from distance). The Mavericks managed to extend that lead to eight points, but Phoenix worked all the way back within one point with 1:01 remaining. Ntilikina connected on his third three of the night then with 0.7 seconds left Trey Burke buried a three off a Porzingis pass to give Dallas a 73-68 lead heading into the final twelve minutes of play.
Dallas maintained a two possession lead despite the Suns finally connecting on threes. Chris Paul reminded everyone that he’s an old grump with a technical foul and some overly physical defense while griping at the refs as Phoenix pulled within three by the seven minute mark. The Suns began relentlessly attacking the rim and finally took an 87-86 lead at the 5:30 mark. Finney-Smith hit another big three to retake the lead, but Paul connected on a 15 footer to give the Suns a two point lead with four minutes remaining. Following a timeout, Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a driving lay-up and drew a foul, retaking the lead. The teams traded leads, then tied at 96. Things fell apart for Dallas late, with multiple mistakes on defense, bad turnovers, and blown shots. The Suns closed the game on a 9-2 run and Dallas falls to 9-5 after losing to Phoenix 105-98.
The Mavericks want those final three minutes back
There’s a lot to consider in that fourth quarter. Giving up 37 points when ahead on the road, missing the team’s best player... it’s safe to say the Mavericks regret what unfolded in the final 180 seconds or so.
The Mavericks went to a zone defense down the stretch, daring the Suns to take and make shots, which they did, but they were aided by repeated miscommunication in terms of which Dallas player was supposed to be where. Junk defenses can steal you a possession or two, but it was a mistake to go to that defense when it didn’t work the first trip down.
On the other end, Dallas had been scoring or getting good looks at will with Kristaps Porzingis stretching the floor and he and Jalen Brunson running a high pick and roll. Which is why, down two with 1:34 left, it made precisely zero sense to post up Porzingis on Mikal Bridges, who is one of the league’s premier defenders. Whether or not Porzingis is good in the post isn’t the point, this is bad offense, period. Then Dorian Finney-Smith made a bad entry pass which Bridges stole and led to a dunk. Then Reggie Bullock blew a lay up, again. The game was over by that point.
The Willie Cauley-Stein experiment must end
Dallas has a small fleet of centers, so there’s got to be some explanation as to why Cauley-Stein keeps getting minutes. Sure, he blew a wide open lay-up, at this point I find myself surprised when he makes easy baskets. But the effort on defense is killing Dallas. Getting outworked by JaVale McGee should be a red alert for the entire Mavericks coaching staff.
McGee showed Dallas exactly what stolen minutes from a back up center looks like and Cauley-Stein’s given Dallas nothing. Enough with this. Bench him, trade him, cut him, but he shouldn’t play anymore. He helped cost the Mavericks the game with his minus-8 in a mere seven minutes.
Reggie Bullock has to figure something out
That blown Bullock lay up when the Mavericks were down 100-96 with 1:34 left is going to stay in my mind for a long time. It’s not fair to him but some moments stick and he’s yet to have much of an impact. That Frank Ntilikina is shooting better from the floor than Bullock is is alarming. I just want him to play better and there hasn’t been a defining stretch I can think of now that gives me something to point to. As the key off-season addition, he’s yet to find his footing.
I suspect he rounds into form and plays just fine, but with Luka Doncic missing time they needed Bullock to step up and his 1-of-6 shooting stands out on a night where very few Dallas players shot the ball well at all.
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