Mavericks’ fans can breathe a sigh a relief after watching their team escape with a narrow 103-101 victory against the injury-riddled Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night in Dallas. The player of the game is Reggie Bullock, who saved his best for when the team needed it the most. Bullock nailed four fourth quarter three pointers, which allowed the Mavericks to hold off the Clippers and avoid what would have been a disastrous loss for a team desperate to get back on track.
The starters started hot and set the tone early. Luka Doncic had his way in the paint and continued to give Ivica Zubac the blues. Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith caught fire from deep and allowed the Mavericks to enter halftime with a 54-32 lead.
Then came the third quarter. The Clippers were able to generate open look after open look while the Mavericks struggled to get the ball in the basket. The bench, outside of Christian Wood, was simply awful. Tim Hardaway Jr. finished the game with zero points thanks to a 0-for-7 night from the field. Maxi Kleber played hot potato in his 10 minutes and flat out refused to shoot the ball. Josh Green finished 0-of-1 from the field in his 14 minutes but did manage to fill all three activity rings on his Apple Watch. Against most teams, this type of performance from the bench won’t get it done and had it not been for Bullock, it would have cost the Mavericks this game.
The stats may tell a different story, but it seems as though no team in the NBA has given up as many double digits leads in as little time as the Dallas Mavericks. Last season, they relied on their defense to keep them in games where they struggled to shoot the ball. This season, prolonged shooting slumps have proven to be disastrous. This puts a tremendous burden on Luka and makes players like Christian Wood and Spencer Dinwiddie invaluable. Without the safety net of a solid defense, it’s impossible to know how the team will fare on a night-to-night basis. Losses to the Magic and Wizards aren’t aberrations. Instead, they are proof of how the team’s defense has regressed.
Finney-Smith and Bullock are back!
Dorian Finney-Smith cracked the 20-point mark for the first all season and it could not have come at a better time. Finney-Smith was often viewed as the team’s weakest perimeter shooter, and he was able to make defenses pay more often than not during the 2021-2022 season. This year, however, has been a bit of a struggle. At 32% from deep, he has been shooting well under his career averages and has taken a step back from where he was last year. Hopefully, we see some positive regression and we start to see more performances like tonight’s as the season progresses. Finney-Smith nailed a career-high seven three pointers against the Clippers.
Now, it’s time to address the elephant in the room. Bullock hit a three-point shot. I repeat, Reggie Bullock hit a 3-point shot. This is not a drill. In fact, he hit four of them during the fourth quarter and the Mavs desperately needed each one during an exciting finish. While Bullock’s shooting struggles have been the topic of conversation for most of the season, few should find his struggles all that surprising. He had a similar start to the season last year and has his shooting splits over his career can be flat out ghoulish to start seasons. He typically starts shooting better in December and is then off to the races from January on.
Because of that, no one could have expected that type of performance tonight. He was scoreless for the first three quarters but delivered when the team needed him the most. As relieved as Mavericks fans are, no one was happier to see those shots fall than Bullock himself. If the Mavericks coaching staff can somehow convince him it’s January, we may start seeing more of the player he was during the second half of last season and into the playoffs.
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