Your lovable little Dallas Mavericks (15-9) are playing Big Boy Basketball these days. And though Thursday’s 119-101 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the American Airlines Center wasn’t the ideal result, with the big picture in mind, what’s important is that the Mavericks are no longer punting these games, no longer conceding defeat using the third game in four days as an excuse to rest some weary bodies.
They’re acting like a team that expects to be in games like these, and that’s got to be a welcome sight for Mavs fans everywhere.
Now that all that’s out of the way, we can roll our sleeves up and get elbows deep into the cadaver of this loss that got uglier and uglier as the second half progressed and wasted the Mavs’ brilliant first-quarter start. The Minnesota defense seemed to wear the Mavericks down as the game wore on. They came in with a league-leading defensive rating of 106.8, and that was better on Thursday than the Mavs’ third-best offensive rating of 119.3.
The Wolves (18-5) methodically built their lead late in the third and throughout the fourth in after whittling down Dallas’ early lead in the second quarter. Luka Dončić led all scorers with 39 points and somehow dished 13 assists, even though his shooters weren’t hitting their shots in this one. It was Dončić’s ninth straight game with 30 or more points.
The Mavs did some good things, especially early on, but everything just kind of crumbled in the fourth quarter for the Mavs.
Wolves backup forward Naz Reid went off for 27 points on 8-of-14 shooting to go along with six rebounds in 31 minutes at the AAC. Allowing guys at the end of the opposing bench to go off like that has become an annoying Mavs habit along the way this year, hasn’t it?
Why don’t we start there? Here are five stats that tell the tale of the win that got away against the Timberwolves.
27: Points for Naz Reid, the Wolves’ fourth big
Reid sort of out-Dante Exum’d the Mavs in this one. His 27 points were just three away from his career high of 30. The fourth-year forward out of LSU made seven 3-pointers in the win in Dallas. That was as many as the Mavs made as a team.
Reid scored 19 of his 27 in the first half and 13 in the second quarter. He was key to the Wolves wrestling back the lead after the Mavs had run out to an early 19-4 lead in the first. He hit two straight 3-pointers to tie the game at 48-48 with 4:35 left before halftime. then he hit another one with just 1:34 before the break to give Minnesota a 57-54 lead.
“He’s an amazing player, and he hurt us today, man,” Dončić said of Reid in his postgame comments. “He’s hoopin’.”
You could feel the Mavs’ resolve take its first big hit as that second-quarter run unfolded, even though Dallas was able to grab a 60-59 lead at the half.
6-of-26: A bad shooting night from these two
It was a night to forget for Grant Williams and Tim Hardaway Jr., after both were great Tuesday against the Lakers. Williams shot 2-for-11 from the field, including 1-for-7 from 3-point land, while Hardaway went 4-for-15, including 0-for-7 from deep.
Grant Williams scored 19 points on 5-of-7 3-point shooting, and Hardaway scored 32 in Tuesday’s 127-125 win over the Lakers.
“We just missed them, that’s it,” Dončić said in his postgame interview.
The Mavericks went 7-of-32 in their 3-point attempts. That’s just 21.9%, beating out November’s 107-88 loss at the Los Angeles Clippers for the worst 3-point shooting game of the year.
“We got great looks,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said in the postgame. “They didn’t go down for us tonight. We can’t be discouraged. We did a lot of good things. Give [Minnesota] credit, but we had some great looks.”
14: Points for Luka Dončić in the first 4:10 of the game
Dončić’s career has been defined by taking things previously thought impossible and making them somehow seem routine. If you watch all 82 games this season, you could easily catalog a new jaw-dropping achievement unlocked by Dončić every time out.
Against the Lakers, it was this blind wrap-around pass to an open Dante Exum for one of his seven 3-pointers on the way to a season-high 26 points. Earlier this season against the Nets it was a ridiculous sky-hooking prayer of a 3-pointer late in the game.
On Thursday Luka came out with his hair on fire, scoring 14 points in the first 4:10 of game time. As overheard in the MavsMoneyball Slack channel, Dončić “went full Super Saiyan early.”
After one of what we thought was four first-quarter 3-pointers was wiped away after the fact on replay, he still made 3-of-5 and scored 16 in the opening frame.
3: First-half fouls for Rudy Gobert
Minnesota center Rudy Gobert had to sit after picking up his third foul with 7:20 left in the second quarter, with the Mavs up 44-37 at the time. It was a loose ball foul — a real gift for the Mavs, who would have a little more space to work with in the lane for the last few minutes before halftime.
It neutralized the Wolves’ size advantage inside, which further tilted things in the Mavs’ favor in the first half. Dončić bullied his way into the lane for a contested leaner inside, then lobbed one up for Dereck Lively II for another bucket on the first two possessions with Gobert on the bench. He had just four points and five rebounds in 13 first-half minutes.
What was frustrating is that the Mavericks didn’t fully take advantage of this seven-minute stretch and actually gave up the lead for the first time late in the second quarter before getting it back, 60-59, on Dončić’s tough drive through the teeth of the Timberwolves defense just before time expired in the second.
Dončić had 26 points and eight assists at the half. It was the 15th time in his career he piled up 25 or more points in a game before halftime. Didn’t we just get done talking about Luka’s ability to make the improbable seem routine?
22: Luka-to-Lively alley-oop dunks this year
That’s the most in the league, and it’s not close. The tall tall trees inside for Minnesota were able, however, to disrupt that part of the Mavs’ offense. The second-quarter lob from Luka didn’t register because it ended in a Lively layup, not a dunk, so it’s a little bit of an imperfect stat, but there is a point for bringing this up.
For the record, the Mike-Conley-to-Gobert connection is a distant second in the league after Wednesday’s game, at 11 alley-oop dunks on the year.
The number is an indicator of how much the Mavs favor the Luka-to-Lively pick-and-roll set in their halfcourt offense. Jason Kidd is going back to the well again and again because no one, aside from the Timberwolves on Thursday, has shown the ability to consistently stop it.