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3 things from a Dallas Mavericks win over the Milwaukee Bucks, 118-112

The Mavericks pulled off a great win against a great team.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 118-112 Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee. Luka Doncic poured in 32 points and dished out 15 assists. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 in defeat. The win puts the Mavericks a step closer to clinching home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, as well as serving as a statement against a title contender in the Bucks.

The inconsistent Mavericks defense continued in the first quarter, allowing the Bucks to score 33 points on 8-16 shooting from deep. But they tightened things up in the second quarter and flipped the script, only allowing the Bucks to score 22 points while they put up 32. They went into halftime up 57-55.

The Mavericks came out on fire to start the third quarter, eventually going up as many as nine points. But the Bucks surged back, going on a 14-0 run late in the quarter to take the lead. The Mavericks didn’t flinch, though, and rode some hot shooting (6-13 from deep in the third quarter) to a lead heading into the fourth quarter. Luka Doncic took over in the fourth, scoring 11 points and dishing out three assists in the last quarter, and the Mavericks took home the win.

Luka led all scorers with 32 points to go along with eight rebounds and 15 assists. All five starters for the Mavericks scored in double figures. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 28 points and 10 rebounds.

Here are three things from the game:

Both teams played an isolation chess match

The Mavericks started off hunting Brook Lopez on switches, trying to get Luka into one-on-one matchups with the Bucks’ big man. And it worked for a while in the first half, until Milwaukee stopped switching it and just had Jrue Holiday fight through the screen. The Bucks went back to switching on Luka, but it didn’t matter who guarded him. He made the right play every time.

Meanwhile on the other side of the floor, the Bucks tried to put Luka into as many pick-and-rolls as possible and get him switched onto Holiday or Khris Middleton on defense. The goal was obvious—wear down Luka. When Davis Bertans saw the floor, playing extended minutes due to the absence of Maxi Kleber, the Bucks went after him.

In the first half, the Mavericks hard doubled Giannis anytime he caught the ball in isolation, to much success. They went away from that in the third quarter, and Giannis started feasting. They pivoted to doubling on the wing, and that helped a bit. Giannis still scored almost 30 points, but somehow his impact felt diminished, which is a testament to how explosive he can be.

All of the adjustments were fascinating, and might deserve a deep dive at some point. It gives a preview of what teams might throw at Luka to slow him down in the playoffs, and how the Mavericks will approach things defensively.

The Bucks defense did what it was supposed to, but the Mavericks hit their shots

The Bucks play drop coverage, walling off the rim and chasing shooters off the corners, forcing opponents to take tougher shots like above the break 3-pointers or midrange shots. For the most part, it worked. The Mavericks only took 16 shots at the rim, and only five in the second half. They only took three corner three’s in the first half, missing them all.

It didn’t matter. Dallas shot 53% on above the break 3-pointers in the first half, almost 20 percentage points higher than league average. That shooting continued in the third quarter, when the Mavericks went 4-10 from deep, still above league average.

It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the math finally worked to Milwaukee’s advantage, when the Mavericks went 1-6 from behind the arc. But two things still conspired against the Bucks. The Mavericks a couple of key 3-pointers from the corners, and the Bucks went only 3-9 on 3-pointers and 4-11 in the paint. They just couldn’t scrap together enough offense when the Mavericks’ shots stopped falling.

Dwight Powell has been the Mavericks’ second most important player since the Kristaps Porzingis trade

Powell scored 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, as well as notching an assist. Outside the box score, he seemed to be everywhere on the floor. He was on the floor for loose balls, making rotations quickly and decisively, and boxing out the Milwaukee bigs. It was an incredible performance by the Mavericks’ longest tenured player, and it’s become common lately.

Powell has scored in double figures in six of his last eight games. He’s had at least one block and five rebounds in five of those last eight games. This is second game of 22 points in the last two weeks. He’s peaking at the best possible time, and it’s great to see. Powell holds the offense and defense together, and it’s easy to say he’s the Mavericks’ second most important player right now, behind only Luka.

Here’s our latest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.