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3 thoughts from a Dallas Mavericks win over the San Antonio Spurs, 144-119

It wasn’t pretty at times, but the Mavericks got the win against the Spurs.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks came away victorious against the San Antonio Spurs, winning 144-119 Saturday night in Dallas. At first, it looked like the Mavericks had their mind on holiday celebrations, playing some sloppy ball on Christmas Eve Eve.

The Spurs were missing Victor Wembanyama, who stepped on a ball boy’s foot in warm ups. Wembanyama seemed to be fine, but the Spurs held him out just to be cautious. It seemed like an advantage for the Mavericks, who were starting 6’6” Grant Williams at center. But San Antonio didn’t miss a beat and came out attacking. They kept the game close the entire first half, basically matching the Mavericks shot for shot. At halftime, the Mavericks led 77-66, a slight advantage built on made free throws and a couple extra shots going down.

Dallas came out of the half on fire, hitting 8-of-13 of their 3-pointers in the third quarter. The Spurs couldn’t keep up, only going 1-of-9, and that was really the game. The Mavericks won the third quarter by 25 points, and there was zero chance they would surrender a lead like that to a struggling Spurs team. They got the bounce-back win, and move on to face the Phoenix Suns on Christmas day.

Doncic led all scorers with 39 points, and also grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out 10 assists. That’s another triple-double, which is becoming oddly routine. A.J. Lawson led the bench with XX points. Jeremy Sochan led the Spurs with 23 points, and just missed a double-double with nine rebounds.

Here are three thoughts from the game:

Luka continues to build his MVP case

It’s not exactly insightful to say that Doncic is putting together a season that will land him in the top five of the MVP vote at the end of the year. It’s just a matter of where in that five he lands. A lot of that will probably come down to where the Mavericks land in the standings.

This is not simply saying the Dallas offense is better when Doncic plays. That’s a given for any NBA superstar. No, the Mavericks offense is completely lost when Doncic is out. When Kyrie Irving is playing, it resembles a functional offensive system. But when both Doncic and Irving are missing, the Mavericks are a mess offensively. One stat provides simple proof. Against the Houston Rockets on Friday night, the Mavericks scored 39 points in the first half. With Doncic back on the court, the Mavericks scored 40 points...in the first quarter. He truly transforms the team, which is what an MVP does.

Second chances in the paint

The Mavericks, even with the missing Dereck Lively II, have had trouble controlling teams in the paint all season. Not tonight. They held a 23-8 advantage on second-chance points, and outscored the Spurs 54-50 on points in the paint. Wembanyama being out helped, for sure, but even undersized teams have bullied Dallas in the paint. Tonight, they decided to be aggressive in the paint and it was a huge part of their win.

Dante Exum and Derrick Jones Jr. are thriving with Luka

Future free agents have to be eyeing the Mavericks as long as Doncic plays in Dallas. Jones is shooting almost 36 percent from deep, up from his career percentage of 31. He went 3-of-5 tonight. Exum is in the same boat, shooting 42 percent from behind the arc, up from a career average of 32 percent. This is what happens when the entire defense is focused on Doncic (and Irving when he plays). It’s a tantalizing situation for any perimeter player looking to get tons of really good shots every single game.