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3 things from a Dallas Mavericks loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 117-111

The Mavericks snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday night in Dallas, 117-111. The loss drops them to 2-3 on the season. The Mavericks were favored to win, but the Thunder stayed feisty throughout the entire game. They played a tough, physical game with great defense that made it difficult for the Mavericks to score.

The Thunder dominated the interior in the first half, going 16-of-25 in the paint. That helped them hold a lead most of the first half. The Mavericks, on the other hand, struggled inside, only going 11-of-21. Fortunately for Dallas, the Thunder couldn’t buy a bucket from deep, going 0-of-7 on 3-pointers. The Mavericks weren’t great, just 4-of-19 from behind the arc, but it was enough to keep them in the game while they adjusted to the Thunder’s defense.

The game continued on like this into the third quarter, the Mavericks letting the Thunder hang around, not able to gain any separation. But finally in the fourth quarter Dallas cut off Oklahoma City’s penetration, and Spencer Dinwiddie started getting to the rim at will. It looked like the Mavericks had the game put away. But the defensive lapses returned.

Then the Thunder dug down deep and found something special inside themselves. They went on a 18-2 run to tie the game and send it to overtime. Oklahoma City continued their run in the extra quarter, finally hitting a couple of clutch 3-pointers to put the game away.

Luka Doncic led the Mavericks with 31 points to go along with 16 rebounds and 10 assists. Dinwiddie had 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Wood chipped in 11 points off the bench. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led all scorers with 38 points.

The sluggish starts continue.

One of the hallmarks of the Luka Doncic era in Dallas is the Mavericks’ inability to put their foot on the throat of bad teams. The Thunder are well-coached and nice collection of good young players, but they’re not on the Mavericks’ level. They’re probably going to try to get as many lottery balls as possible this season.

It would be nice to see the Mavericks start games against these lesser teams with a fire, wanting to put the game away by the third quarter. Instead, they play with their food and let teams hang around. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. Even good teams will have nights when they’re off their game against losing teams, but the Mavericks do it far too often. It comes back to haunt them on games like tonight, with a back-to-back against the Orlando Magic looming tomorrow. They should have put this game away early and got their starters some rest. Instead, they lost the game.

The Mavericks have to get Christian Wood more involved.

It’s becoming clear that Wood is the Mavericks’ second-best offensive threat behind Doncic. He’s one of the few Dallas players that are versatile, able to shoot and create his own shot. Yet Kidd seems hesitant to play him. There are concerns on defense. Early in the second quarter, Wood allowed Jalen Williams to waltz to the rim for an easy layup and Kidd pulled Wood almost immediately. He wasn’t exactly glued to the bench after that, but Kidd didn’t seem interested in putting him back in for big stretches.

Wood finished the game with only 10 shots, fourth on the team. He needs more. The Mavericks also have Wood slipping screens and popping out to a midrange position for post ups too much for my taste. I’d like to see them mix in more dives to the rim for Wood, and to have him set solid screens. Whatever it takes to get him some more attempts, especially early on in the game.

The Mavericks have to protect the paint.

The Thunder didn’t shoot well from deep. It didn’t matter. They won this game by dominating the paint. They outscored the Mavericks 70-54 in the paint. They went 19-28 in the restricted area. There was no resistance from Dallas at the rim. JaVale McGee was out, but he hasn’t exactly been a defensive presence down low.

The Mavericks struggles started on the perimeter. They allowed too much penetration. Gilgeous-Alexander went 13-of-22 in the paint on his own, including 4-of-6 in the fourth quarter. Lu Dort, not exactly known for getting to the basket, blew past Doncic several times. Dallas won a lot of games last season because of their defense. That defense was absent tonight.

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