The Dallas Mavericks lost a frantic game to the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday night in Dallas, losing 124-121. The Timberwolves had a 26 point lead in the third quarter and the Mavericks almost completed one of the best comebacks in franchise history.
Kyrie Irving exploded in the second half, scoring 26 of his game-high 36 points in the fourth quarter. Luka Doncic scored 33, as the duo each got to 30 points in their first home game together since Irving was traded to the Mavericks on Sunday. Anthony Edwards led the Timberwolves with 32 points.
It was a bizarre game. Dallas looked disinterested and sloppy for three quarters, only for Irving to inject the team in the heart with an adrenaline needle in the fourth. It was fun to watch, but ultimately, the Mavericks are now 0-2 in the Doncic/Irving era (when playing together) and there are a lot of things the team needs to work out between now and the end of the season.
Here are the two main thoughts.
The Mavericks defense is absolutely cooked
On Saturday the Kings lit the Mavericks up to the tune of 74 points in the paint. While the Mavericks defense is short staffed with the departure of Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber still on the mend, you’d think the team would have some sort of pride and at least put forth a better effort?
Nope. Minnesota scored 64 points in the paint on Monday, and would have likely exceeded the Kings total if they too were granted an additional five minutes of basketball.
The Mavericks defense is putrid right now. You can’t even argue “well, it’s just one of those nights” because the Wolves only made 9-of-29 from three. Minnesota went an astonishing 23-of-26 at the rim, and 9-of-17 in the paint but outside the restricted area. That’s 32 of the Wolves 48 made field goals coming in the paint.
If Dallas just had an average defensive game, this would have been a comfortable victory for the Mavericks, considering how poorly Minnesota shot from the perimeter. Instead it was practically a layup line as just about every Mavericks perimeter player got roasted on simple one-on-one drives to the basket. The Wolves moved the ball well with 28 assists, but the Mavericks were incapable of closing out without allowing an unimpeded path to the basket.
Luka Doncic was especially bad, allowing guys like Taurean Prince and Kyle Anderson to beat him to the rim. For Luka’s sake, he wasn’t alone, as just about every Mavericks player had bad beats. To make matters worse, the trio of Dwight Powell, JaVale McGee, and Christian Wood did zero to help on the backline, getting pushed out of the way and failing to do much contesting. Blocks don’t tell the whole story of rim protection, but the Mavericks only had one and it was from Irving.
There will likely be some griping about how Wood could only play 23 minutes despite scoring 24 points, but he just about gave it back on the other end almost every trip down the floor. The only quarter the Mavericks held the Wolves under 30 points was the fourth, when Wood didn’t play and the Mavericks used a small-ball lineup for the entire quarter. It almost worked! It was the only time the Mavericks defense looked passable, and still the Wolves got some big buckets down the stretch in the paint.
Dallas lacks a stable of quality defenders, but there comes a point where pride needs to take over. It doesn’t matter how many points Irving and Doncic put up if the team continues to allow this type of runway to the basket on defense.
Luka Doncic needs to decide what type of team he wants to play on
For years, the thought behind Doncic’s astronomical usage and the Mavericks reliance on Doncic creating everything for the Mavericks offense was the sheer lack of talent on the Mavericks roster. How else could the Mavericks play, when Doncic never had another All-Star talent, let alone more than one or two players at a time that could capably dribble the ball.
Well, that has changed. Kyrie Irving is not only an All-Star talent, but perhaps the most talented ball handler in the NBA. The onus is now on Doncic to change.
The first outing against the Kings wasn’t great, as the team fell into the Luka-ball trance almost immediately after tip-off, although Doncic and Irving’s sheer talent outweighed the bad process (Dallas scored well with Irving and Doncic on the floor).
In this game however, it was bleak. Dallas’ offense looked rudderless in the first three quarters, as for some reason Irving was relegated to the corner while the Mavericks kept doing the same old Doncic dominating the ball at the top of the key or in the post. It was maddening, as the Wolves piled up a 26 point second half lead, to watch Irving treated like just another role player or spot up shooter.
The apex of this was during Irving’s first possession handling the ball in the second half (which happened three possessions into the third quarter, I might add). As Irving ran a pick and roll, Doncic had his back to the basketball arguing with a referee about a call Doncic thought was missed on the previous possession. Irving ended up scoring an and-one in the paint, funny enough, further showing how the Mavericks can get away with bad process because the talent is so good.
When Irving finally got consistent touches in the fourth quarter, what do you know: he went nuts! Irving scored 26 points in the fourth, three shy of Dirk Nowitzki’s all time record for most points by a Mavericks player in a single quarter. Even when Doncic checked back in, he thankfully kept conceding the ball to Irving and let him work.
Doncic still didn’t do anything off the ball, but hey, it’s a start. At least he recognized the meteoric run Irving was on and stayed out of his way. Perhaps that fourth quarter can be the start of some serious change in how the Mavericks operate. Funny enough, scoring still hasn’t been a problem. But the process can eventually catch up to you, especially in a playoff matchup against a good team that can have proper time to scout. Dallas has a lot of time left to figure this out, but the ball (figuratively and literally) is in Luka’s court. It’s up to him.
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