Something happened a lot in the fourth quarter of the Mavericks thrilling win against the Atlanta Hawks that was decidedly MIA last season — Dallas Mavericks not named Luka Doncic scoring in the clutch.
Jalen Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to score 24 points in the final quarter and rendered Doncic the third highest scoring Maverick in the period, something that did not happen much at all last season in one possession games. Before the win against the Hawks on Wednesday night, the Mavericks clutch offense (with clutch being defined as the final five minutes of a game with the score difference five points or less) ranked 11th in the league, scoring 114.1 points per 100 possessions. Last season, that number was under 100 points per 100 possession, one of the worst marks in the league.
It’s safe to say that clutch mark is only going up after Wednesday. The Mavericks scored a staggering 160.9 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter.
The big takeaway Wednesday night wasn’t just that Brunson and Hardaway were hitting open shots, they were scoring in the space created by the defense’s attention toward Doncic.
I’m highlighting Brunson here because it feels like the newest wrinkle, since Hardaway mostly closed games last season as well. This feels like the most optimal use of Brunson. He isn’t the best facilitator or has enough juice to necessarily carry an offense on his own, which the Mavericks have asked of him at times coming off the bench. He’s a solid scorer, but playing next to Doncic seems to ease just enough of the pressure off him to thrive. Maybe Brunson can’t carry a five-man unit by himself, but he can do some damage next to the gravity of a star like Doncic.
In the 244 minutes Doncic and Brunson have shared the court this season, the Mavericks have outscored opponents by 24 points and shot 47.3 percent from the floor.
Of all of Doncic’s potential sidekicks on this Mavericks roster, Brunson by far has the best combination of handles, scoring and vision to thrive in a role to create off of what Doncic can do. This is what the Mavericks desperately needed in crunch time last season, as the Mavericks offense boiled down to Doncic holding the ball and four players spotting up and watching.
Against the Hawks, Atlanta sent hard doubles at Doncic down the stretch to get the ball out of his hands. With the defense extended so far to keep Doncic from dominating, that gave Brunson plenty of room to score and even create.
Entering the Hawks game, Brunson was 5-of-8 from the floor in 24 clutch minutes, with two assists and zero turnovers. A performance like tonight might warrant more looks for him in these scenarios. This is after Josh Richardson nailed the game-sealing shot in the win against the Timberwolves on Monday and Maxi Kleber the clutch shot against the Warriors on Saturday. The Mavericks have gone three straight clutch wins with Doncic not being the one to seal the game on offense.
Who closes the next game will be interesting to watch, as Richardson and Kristaps Porzingis sat for most of the Mavericks comeback in the fourth quarter. Seeing how Richardson just provided some help in the clutch on Monday, this feels like a good problem to have.
Dallas has something for clutch situations so far that it didn’t have a season ago — options.