The first quarter was not the most aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball by either team. Kevin Durant started the game 0 for 3 and got burned by Luka Doncic on defense. Josh Richardson rewarded Rick Carlisle’s sometimes stubborn faith in him with some early energy. He had three first quarter steals and a couple of early buckets. Tim Hardaway continued his recent play on the offensive end and help bail the mavericks out of some ugly possessions.
The next twelve minutes were a struggle for both teams. Jalen Brunson and Trey Burke could not create clean looks on offense. The second unit allowed Kevin Durant to close the gap after he blew by a hapless Dwight Powell and drained an elbow jumper. Carlisle recognized the second unit lacked offensive punch and put Luka back in the game earlier than he’s accustomed to. Luka, Durant, and Kyrie then proceeded to put on an offensive show. Luka had three 3 pointers as he caught fire in the second quarter. Kyrie and Durant proved that they are simply unguardable at times. The Mavericks were in good defensive position but were no match for the pair’s ability to take and make difficult shots. Luka was able to draw a last second foul and hit one of two free throws to give the Mavericks a 63-62 lead heading into halftime.
To put it mildly, the Mavericks offense was an unmitigated disaster to start the second half. Luka missed his first six shots to start the third. The first Maverick field goal came as the result of a Josh Richardson three with 7:20 left in the 3rd quarter. Mavericks fans collectively took a deep breath after a brief scare, where it felt like the Nets could run away with the game.
Tim Hardaway Jr. hit the ground with what appeared to be a sprained ankle after stepping on Joe Harris’s foot. Surprisingly he was able to stay in the game and had a 5-0 run of his own halfway through the quarter. Luka Doncic then drew Durant’s fourth foul but grew frustrated with himself after continuing his season-long struggles at the free throw line. The Nets closed out the quarter by evaporating a 4 point lead with a quick 5 point burst as the Mavericks committed a series of miscues.
The fourth quarter started with a couple of mini runs by each team. Dwight Powell gave the Mavericks a boost with his energy and effort. Dorian Finney-Smith helped give the Mavericks a 7 point lead halfway through the quarter with a timely 3. The Mavericks were sluggish on offense at times but played enough defense to force Durant and company into some tough misses down the stretch. Luka ended a 0 for 9 second-half shooting slump with a beautiful left-handed finish in the lane and the Mavericks never relinquished the lead. They went on to win the game 113-109
Now, some thoughts
The Nets will struggle to get stops come playoff time
The Nets don’t have a single plus defender in their starting lineup. That issue will only be compounded once James Harden makes his return. Kevin Durant has always been a great help defender but his length and wingspan didn’t bother Luka enough to change the game.
The Mavericks need the Jalen Brunson of old
The second unit struggled mightily without Luka in the game. Without a reliable playmaker to threaten the defense, the backups struggled to find clean looks. They were fortunate the Nets did not blow the game open while Luka sat on the bench. JJ Redick coming back should help but Jalen Brunson in particular will need to raise his level of play moving forward. Brunson started the season on a tear but has cooled off a bit in recent weeks.
The offense is too predictable
This team has no margin for error. Too much of tonight’s offense involved the other four players standing pat while Luka was tasked with creating offense. More often than not, Luka has proven he is up to the task. However, if this team hopes to win a first-round series, they will have to become more dynamic on offense and help out their young superstar, particularly in the clutch moments.
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.