Curry Vs. Burke: Did Mavs Rely On The Wrong 'Little Scorer'?

Mike Fisher

In his career, this particular Dallas Mavericks’ undersized scoring guard has been highly-touted, waived, in the G-League, forgotten, re-signed with little fanfare and is so well-traveled that he’s served two separate stints with coach Rick Carlisle’s Mavs.

If you’re thinking “Seth Curry,” you’re thinking about the wrong Mavs undersized scoring guard.

We’re thinking “Trey Burke” - and maybe, in the waning minutes of Friday’s NBA re-opening 153-149 OT loss in the Orlando bubble, Carlisle should've been thinking about him, too.

“I don’t think I surprised myself,” said Burke, who after having been waived by the Sixers in the spring and signed by Dallas as a late add to the bubble roster, scored a stunning 31 points on Friday. “My teammates and the coaching staff really was on me about being myself when I got out there on the court. That’s why they brought me back, is to play-make.

Actually, conventional wisdom has it that when Willie Cauley-Stein opted out of the NBA re-boot, the Mavs signed the 6-0 Burke, 27, not thinking he’d do anything like this. Come off the bench to go 11-of-16 from the field and 8-of-10 from 3-point range?


The Mavs actually expect that sort of thing from Curry. And so despite the unlikely-hero efforts of Burke - who was a throw-in in the Kristaps Porzingis two years ago and finished that season in Dallas before departing again - Curry got the nod in clutch time.

Understandable, really.

But with Curry at the free-throw line with only 5.2 seconds remaining in regulation and Dallas needing him to make both to take a likely win-sealing four-point lead?

Curry - an 84-percent free-thrower - missed one of them, leaving open the gap that would allow Janes Harden (49 points) and the Rockets to outscore Dallas 8-1 in those final seconds and then to pull away in OT.

Said Carlisle: “We missed free throws down the stretch; that was a culprit.”

This is was a "must-win'' (for Dallas' hopes of moving up from seventh in the West) game, one ripe for second-guessing, as all important and close losses are. Why do the Mavs habitually fall apart late? Why can't Luka Doncic get good shots in clutch time? Should 7-4 Boban Marjanovic been in the game to prevent a suicidal Dallas error on the defensive boards?

But second-guessing isn't automatically unfair. Curry is a statistical all-time great perimeter shooter but in 23 minutes scored three points. Burke was a scoring-machine NCAA Player of the Year at Michigan and the ninth player taken in the 2013 NBA Draft. And he got his 31 points here in 30 minutes. 

“He’s a very good player and he’s a terrific scorer,'' Carlisle acknowledged after the loss. "I was thrilled when we were able to get him back. He has worked, kept himself in great shape. He only had a couple of live practices and one scrimmage. What he did was terrific. ...''

But Carlisle said Burke "obviously got tired out there in the second half so we got him out,'' adding in generally, "He was terrific and he gave us a lot of juice the whole game.”

It speaks to Burke's confidence - a confidence one would think would be eroded by spending seven pro seasons with seven different employers - that after the game, he didn't shy from questions about minutes.

“I think some of the guys on the (bench) were wondering the same thing,'' Burke said frankly before adding, "I just got here. I know coach has a lineup at the end of the game that he trusts at this point. 

"Things change. You never know, going forward it could be Seth out there going for it, it could be me out there — it depends on who has it going at that particular moment. ... I understand that coaches are going to make decisions and everyone has to be OK with that and be ready to produce when their number is called.''

Carlisle is as masterful as any NBA coach when it comes to "calling numbers''; the fact that Burke entered this game early and stayed for 30 minutes speaks to that. But surely there are decisions in a loss like this on which he'd like mulligans.

"I know this was a big game, first game for us, and I think we all wanted to set a tone,'' Curry said. "Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win, but I think it was a wake-up call going into (the Phoenix Suns game on) Sunday.”

It might not be a "wake-up call'' when it comes to massive Mavs rotation changes. But it was, at least, a "wake-up call'' for any of us who'd forgotten what the other "Mavs undersized scoring guard'' can do.