No Kyrie Irving. Five minutes of Luka Dončić. And still this unconnected Mavericks team with wonky rotations and random lineups played up against the best non-NBA team in the world.
We can pretty confidently call Real Madrid that because they’re the reigning EuroLeague champions, and because the EuroLeague is generally accepted by everyone as being the second best league in the world. Some may even go so far as to say that Real Madrid could easily hold their own in the NBA, but that’s another conversation.
And despite almost half of the Mavericks starters barely playing (Kyrie and Luka that is), the Mavs led most of the game. In the end, in a remarkable comeback, ex-Mav Facu Campazzo on the offensive end and ex-Philadelphia 76’er on the defensive end, Vincent Poirier, led the effort to secure Real Madrid the victory 127-123.
The Mavericks coaching staff obviously decided that the outcome of this game didn’t matter and kept their end of the bench guys in. And with an inexperienced lineup full of rookies and guys vying for the two-way spots, you don’t win against Real Madrid.
The exciting part of this is that the Mavericks may have had a real shot of winning if they’d kept good rotations and stuck to their clear rotation players. Had Dante Exum, Jaden Hardy/Seth Curry, Josh Green, Grant Williams and Derreck Lively/Maxi Kleber and finished this game, there’s a good chance they would have won. And that’s a big deal with no superstars playing.
But the reasoning, which the announcers kept coming back to - that this game didn’t matter as much to the Mavericks as to Madrid - I don’t buy.
The only people it didn’t matter to very much was the Mavericks coaching staff. The guys out there fought for each possession, the end of bench guys to show that they deserve a spot, and the rotation players to show that they deserve more minutes. And are you telling me that this game didn’t matter to Luka Dončić? And through, him to his teammates?
And then there’s the pride aspect. You want to win every game as a competitor, you’re especially going to want to prove that your team is better than a European team. And don’t you want to show that American basketball is superior - especially in these times where European players are dominating in the NBA?
No, the Mavericks players wanted to win this game. The coaching staff wanted to try things and see how guys responded. It is still a preseason game, it does not count, but the Mavericks made a good showing against an elite team, and they did it without their two best players and leaders.
One of the things that were noticeable when watching this matchup was the rebounding efforts. The Mavericks struggled with the sheer size of Madrid, who played with two large centers; seven footer Vincent Poirior and 7’3 Edy Tavares (with a 7’9 wingspan). The Mavericks have been struggling to win the rebounding battle for a long time now, and hopefully seven footer Derreck Lively can help that this season, but against the size of Real Madrid, there was not much he could do.
Real Madrid had 52 boards versus Dallas’ 41, and 15 offensive rebounds versus 11 from the Mavs. Offensive rebounds win games and there seems to be so much more focus on boxing out and developing a skill set to be an effective rebounder in Europe.
A second point is the style of play. In Europe, the focus is much more on developing fundamentals and skills from a young age no matter your position and talent level, because they can’t depend on athleticism as much. Everybody needs to learn how to shoot, dribble, post up and defend. That’s why you see most European big men being able to stretch the floor to be a three point threat, as well as a paint presence.
As an extension of this, the style of play in Europe is more disciplined in many ways and teams play more set plays and schemes than we typically see in the NBA, where the offense usually is more free flowing and dependent on stars to create.
Luka Dončić described this difference very well in a press conference before the game:
“I think that in Europe you play more as a team, that is, in fewer minutes you play more as a team. The plays are very important. I think there are not many plays in the NBA, so team basketball is very important (in Europe).”
And Luka Dončić knew that the Spanish EuroLeague champions weren’t going to be an easy matchup for the Mavericks:
“Real Madrid haven’t lost a game yet; it’s still early in the season, but they look very good,” he said before the game.
It would be nice with a win soon for the Mavericks, but against Madrid as opposed to the previous two games in Abu Dhabi versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, shots were falling and the offense was less stagnant, despite the two main creators being out. That is, for now, at least something to be optimistic about.