Former Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle used to say that you can’t win games in the first quarter, but you can lose them. That certainly was the case Wednesday night with the Mavs on the road taking on the New Orleans Pelicans.
Even without Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Herb Jones, the Pels pounced quickly, building a 16-point lead. It left Dallas reeling and needing to claw back into the game. They did but the final effort wasn’t enough as the Mavericks lost, 113-111, in regulation.
“They played with more force,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said after the game. “We gave up a 40-point [first] quarter. The beauty of that is that we should have been down 20, but we were finding a way to score and then were only down two at half.”
Carrying the scoring load for Dallas was Luka Doncic. He kept the Mavs in the game during the first half, rattling off 22 points, six rebounds and six assists in 17 and a half minutes. Despite Doncic’s predictable offensive heroics, he points to the team’s defensive breakdown as the primary culprit for their struggles.
“It was just bad defense,” Doncic said. “We weren’t there and that’s all. We weren’t there in the first quarter and we never picked it up.”
The Mavericks’ defense looked like a sieve for much of the game, but they were able to hold the Pelicans to 26 or fewer points in the second through fourth quarters. Still, New Orleans was able to assert its will, getting easy layups and knocking down timely threes.
“We got beat in all phases of defense,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “They were getting transition points. They were getting layups. I think coach said at one point in time that they were 20 out of 26 in layups. That’s way too much to give up.”
The Pelicans had forty shots in the paint—the Mavericks had 38—scoring 56 points in the middle. But it was the long ball that did Dallas in. New Orleans shot 44.4 percent from deep, making 12 of their 27 shots.
Doncic, Dinwiddie, and Christian Wood did everything they could to give Dallas the edge. The trio combined for 84 points—37 for Doncic, 24 for Dinwiddie, and 23 for Wood. For the third game in a row, Wood came off the bench and scored efficiently.
“When I get in as the Sixth Man, I try to do everything I can to help Luka,” Wood said. “I think he plays the whole first quarter and then they leave me in a little bit. I’m just trying to find my rhythm.”
Even with the defensive lapse, Dallas was able to keep the game close. In the closing seconds, the Mavericks had a chance to shoot for the lead. Naturally, the ball was in Doncic’s hand and predictably, he took a deep three from the left wing. It missed.
“It was far,” Doncic said. “Threes weren’t going in for me, so I probably should have gotten a better shot than that for me.”
Dallas stands at 1-2 on the short season, but if the ball bounces a little differently, they could be 3-0. It’s a tough start that could have ramifications down the road if things don’t improve, much like the bad start in New Orleans. But there is a lot of basketball left to play.
“It’s only three games in,” Dinwiddie said. “There’s no reason to panic. It’s just learn and grow.”