When it comes to NBA rivalries, it doesn’t get much better than the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs. It’s one of those rivalries where no team can ever be counted completely out of the game. Two of the most successful franchises over the past two decades, separated by nothing more than a few miles down a single highway, it was inevitable that there would be a close finish in this one. As it would happen, two stars, Luka Doncic and DeMar DeRozan, would battle it out until the end. But it was again the supporting cast for the Mavericks – a refreshingly common theme this year – that would make the difference.
The Mavericks started out hot, capitalizing on some suffocating defense to run out to a quick 16-4 lead. Everyone was chipping in as all 5 starters had contributed to the early run that started the game. Dallas would end the quarter up by 14, but that was about the highest they would have it the rest of the way. San Antonio did a great job keeping the game within striking distance of around 10-14 points, of which they would eventually strike toward the end of the 4th quarter – getting the game to within 3 points toward the end of the game. Then this high energy/high stress sequence took place with about a minute and a half left and with the Mavs holding on to a meager 3 point lead:
1. An offensive rebound from Seth Curry lead to a game of hot potato that ended in Dorian Finney-Smith’s hands; who had no choice but to launch the potato toward the rim with a prayer, somehow hitting nothing but net.
2. The next possession ended in a Maxi Kleber steal off of a pass intended for Derozan who, up until that points, was carrying the Spurs the whole game.
3. Mavs wouldn’t capitalize, missing a shot and looking for a foul. While a foul may have occurred, it was so minor that one of its stature would never be called at this point in the game.
4. Rudy Gay came down and hit a three to bring the game back to within two points.
5. Luka then took the ball down and proceeded to hit a trademark step-back-three to push the lead back up to 5 with only 26.5 seconds left – setting a new personal career high of 42 points at the same time.
6. The Spurs then decided to call a timeout only to find that they couldn’t inbound the ball, getting hit with a 5-second call and turning the ball over with no timeouts left.
7. Luka then makes the impossible possible yet again by creating mass chaos in a dog-pile like scene between himself and 3 Spurs. He dribbled the ball to its own death, losing it in the paint but somehow finding a way to shovel it to Seth Curry for an easy lay-up to close out the game.
The majority of this game was slow. There wasn’t much in terms of excitement apart from a great duel between Luka and DeMar Derozan, who ended up with 36 points and 8 rebounds of his own. While the ending of the game added a little bit of stress, it never really felt like Dallas was going to cough this one up. The Mavs were in control throughout this game and while it might have been a little nicer to see them close it up earlier, finishing the game out in crunch time could offer some useful experience down the road.
Luka can do it all
This was one of those games where he was simply in rhythm the entire night. Everything looked good, even the moments where he wasn’t in complete control (see again the dog-pile scenario that closed out the game). When a player starts a game the way Luka started his last night, it’s easy for that player to settle into shooting outside shots; they ARE going in after all. It’s something that Doncic could have easily done last night, and it’s something that Mavs fans have seen before, as everything seemed to be going in. Still though, the comforting part of Luka’s game last night was that he didn’t settle. He kept his teammates involved and continued to attack the basket. He has a knack for always being in the right placed at the right time and that was in full affect last night. He ended with a career high and another triple double, but when asked about his game immediately afterwards he only had 2 words.
Doe-Doe had a career high last night. For the first time in his career he eclipsed the 20 point mark, ending with 22. In a kind of inverted sense to Luka, Dorian was able to use his aggressiveness to open up the rest of his game. While Luka was able to use his hot outside stroke to set up the rest of his offense, DFS was constantly looking to go to the basket. In some cases this season it has been a little frustrating to watch him jack up ill-advised threes or just pass the ball around the horn when he may have had a lane to drive. Last night, though, he took full advantage of those lanes and it wasn’t until it seemed the defense was giving him the open 3 that he was taking it. Something I’ve noticed the past couple games as well is that Dallas doesn’t seem to be against Doe-Doe bringing the ball up in both transition and half-court scenarios. It hasn’t happened a lot but I’ve seen it over the past couple of games and it makes me wonder if Dallas knows that he can facilitate, he just simply has been a little too passive to do so. Known more for his defense, if Dorian can show out on offense like he did last night it’s going to open everything up for the Dallas offense to continue to surprise their NBA rivals.
The Rotation Tonight
The rotation is always a target of controversy. It is especially so when teams have 2 stars, then a hodge podge of up-and-coming players that have yet to show their true potential like Dallas does. That rotation for the Mavs last night seemed to make a little more sense. Delon Wright played 25 minutes, about 5-10 more than he had been recently. In addition, Tim Hardaway Jr. only played 15 – which was about 5-10 less than he had been seeing. It’s a small tweak but Wright’s decision making and defense significantly improve the play of those around him and if those around him are going to be other bench players than it is imperative that he stays around that 25 minute mark. His offensive line on the night doesn’t quite show the impact he had, ending with only 4 points and 4 rebounds. However, taking a look a little down the box score can help illuminate that impact as he had a couple timely blocks and a steal.
Justin Jackson made an appearance tonight as well, coming in with under a minute left in the 3rd quarter and hitting a buzzer beating 3-pointing to close it out. Carlisle decided to leave him in to start the 4th, unfortunately though he seemed to give Mavs fans plenty of reasons as to why he isn’t seeing much the past few games, bricking multiple looks and getting bullied by Rudy Gay on back-to-back possessions on defense. Justin Jackson has a good set of tools, but I’m a little on the fence about the impact he might be able to make on a nightly basis. Unless he can bulk up or find a way to stop the bigger wings in the league, it may be difficult for him to find consistent minutes.
This was a great win for the Mavs. Not only because it was against one of their most hated rivals, but because they were able to hold them off to close out the game. Luka continues to surpass any reasonable expectation anyone could have had for him this year and Dorian Finney-Smith continues to blossom right in front of our eyes. Carlisle seems to be figuring out the most efficient lineups while staying true to his “always be ready” mentality, and there is still plenty of untapped potential this roster has to capitalize on. Dallas is 8-5 to start the year, riding a bonifide MVP candidate. Let’s see where this thing takes us next.