Doncic and Mavs Are Good - But Lots of Growing Up to Do
‘Growing pains’... You hear those words tossed around with the Dallas Mavericks a lot these days.
The Mavs aren’t the youngest team in the league, but this current roster hasn’t been together for a great amount of time yet, and the team’s leader and best player, Luka Doncic, is still just 21 years old, despite what his stats have shown us in his first two years in the NBA. That’s not necessarily an excuse for the Mavs repeatedly having the wheels completely fall off the wagon when push comes to shove in the fourth quarters of big games, but rather just a truthful observation to help us rationalize their most recent collapse we witnessed on Friday night.
The Mavs, having led the Houston Rockets for the entire fourth quarter of their first game back in the resumed 2019-2020 NBA season, choked away a seven-point lead with 45 seconds left in regulation, sending the game to overtime. From there, Dallas just couldn’t regain any momentum and ultimately lost the high-scoring affair, 153-149.
“I’ve got to look at the film to give you an exact answer,” said Rick Carlisle when asked about his team’s offensive struggles down the stretch. “I just know that this is a tough loss. This is about as tough as it gets, and it just comes down to basic execution. The free-throw block-out was a big culprit. We missed free throws down the stretch — that was a culprit. NBA games are going to get more grinding as the game goes on and Houston made some plays.”
The two ‘culprits’ Carlisle listed there happened in the final 5.2 seconds of regulation. Clinging to a two-point lead, the Rockets intentionally fouled Seth Curry, who could’ve potentially sealed the game by hitting both free throws. Instead, he split the pair, keeping the score as a one-possession game. As hot as Trey Burke was for the Mavs all game long, he probably should’ve been in the game over Curry at that point, but even then, you’d still expect a sharpshooter to sink both free throws in that situation.
On the ensuing Rockets possession, the Mavs fouled James Harden before he was able to get off a shot, something you’re supposed to do when you’re up three at the end of the game. After Harden missed his second free throw, though, Kristaps Porzingis, who had a great game overall with a team-high 39 points and 16 rebounds, missed the box-out on Robert Covington, leading to an easy tip-in for the Rockets to tie the game.
Despite all of that, the Mavs still had a shot to win the game in regulation with three seconds left, but they ended up looking out of sorts before inbounding, which ultimately led to an unorganized Doncic desperation heave for a chance to win. It took all of that Mavs’ misfortune for the Rockets to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
“I take full responsibility for the loss,” said Carlisle. “I want to keep the pressure off the players. They really played their butts off, but we were unable to make a few of the key plays we needed to make.”
The Mavs, by the numbers, have the most efficient offense in league history, despite the current roster having not been together for a long time, but how much does that really matter if they’re 29th in the league in clutch offense? At what point do these perceived ‘growing pains’ become the team’s actual identity? The answer to that is unclear, but we think it’s safe to assume that the Mavs have at least another season or two before it gets to that point. After all, Dallas’ two young cornerstones, Doncic and Porzingis, have yet to even play a full season’s worth of games together. Both of them should continue to get better going forward, and Doncic, despite already becoming a top-talent in the league, has the ability to be humble and acknowledge his shortcomings.
“I’ve got to do way better,” said Doncic, who obviously didn’t think his coach should take full responsibility the loss. “I played a bad game. I can’t be one for nine (on three-point attempts).”
Doncic notched his league-leading 15th triple-double of the season with 28 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, but only shot 11-of-27 from the field, and as he mentioned, just 1-of-9 from deep. If Doncic just makes one or two more shots, or if the team as a whole doesn’t miss ten free throws, the Mavs wouldn’t have let their first real ‘bubble game’ game slip away.
But alas, these are the aforementioned ‘growing pains.’ They’re called that for a reason. They’re meant to hurt, but also meant to indicate that maturity is on the way, and that’s what we’re expecting as the Mavs prepare for their first postseason appearance in three seasons.
If there’s one bright side to the Mavs’ clutch woes this season, it’s that the team never seems to get too down on itself, no matter how deflating the loss is at the time. Dallas always seems to bounce back. In fact, the Mavs are the only team in the entire league this season to not lose more than two games in a row. The talent is there, the ‘want-to’ is there. Now the Mavs just have to fight through the pain and ‘grow up.’
“We’re a young team,” said Doncic. “We’ve got a lot to learn. We’ll get better for sure. I know we’re going to get together when it matters most to the players, so I’m not worried about that.”