The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Toronto Raptors Friday night, 114-110. In the last regular season home game of the season, the Mavericks ground out a win in a game they should have dominated. The Raptors were missing most of their key rotation players, all sitting with some ailment or another, but the guys who played didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to just fold. They pushed the Mavericks for all 48 minutes.
The Mavericks continued their season-long tradition of playing down to the competition and started out the first quarter sloppy. They eventually put some distance between them and the Raptors midway through the second. Jalen Brunson came to life for the first time in a while, but mostly it was the Mavericks’ 3-point shooting that kept them ahead. Dallas shot 13-of-24 from behind the arc in the first half.
The second half was more of the same, with the Mavericks even getting outscored in the third quarter. They just couldn’t contain Toronto’s dribble penetration. The Raptors continued to threaten, eventually pulling to within two with 13 seconds left in the game. But Josh Richardson hit four clutch free throws to end the game, and the Mavericks walked away with a win they tried hard to throw away.
With the win, the Mavericks clinched a playoff spot and avoided the dreaded play-in tournament. If they beat the Timberwolves on Sunday, they clinch the fifth seed outright. Whichever seed they end up with, a rematch with the Clippers or a slugfest with the Nuggets looms.
Kristaps Porzingis led the Mavericks in scoring, putting up 21 points and 10 rebounds. Luka Doncic struggled but still ended up with a triple-double, scoring 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds and 11 assists. Jalen Harris led the way for Toronto with an eye-popping 36 points.
Here are three observations from a stressful Mavericks win:
Porzingis played well on offense, but his defense is still a question mark
In his second game since returning from yet another injury, Porzingis played well on offense. He scored 15 points in the first half and shot 3-of-5 from deep for the game. Defense was another story, however. Porzingis didn’t move well, missing some rotations and falling for pump fakes he shouldn’t. If the Mavericks are going to go far in the playoffs, Porzingis has to play at a high level. It’s encouraging that he’s in rhythm on offense. Hopefully the defense will follow.
The Mavericks have to find a higher level of defense
The Mavericks said they were going to focus on playing better defense this season. That was determined to be a lie. It’s true, they’re better than they were last year, but that speaks more to their putrid defense last year than improvement this season. And there are some defensive metrics that point to them being average at stopping teams from scoring. But I don’t know how you could watch this game and believe the Mavericks are good on defense. A Raptors squad fielding almost exclusively end of the bench players got to the rim at will all night. As mentioned above, Porzingis has to be more active while defending the paint, but the Mavericks’ perimeter players also have to be better.
Brunson showed signs of life.
Jalen Brunson has struggled for the past month, so it was nice to see him put up 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting. That includes going 3-of-4 from behind the arc. Brunson even chipped in four assists and five rebounds. The Mavericks bench is thin, and Brunson is the motor for the Dallas backups. If he’s shooting well going into the playoffs, the Mavericks are a much better team.
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.