Going into Thursday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, the Dallas Mavericks faced a real test to gauge where they stand against a Western Conference force while having Kristaps Porzingis healthy and in roster.
Going into the fourth quarter, things were looking good for the Mavericks, who held a 95-87 lead with 6:56 left. However, everything quickly unraveled in the streak, as Dallas was outscored by Phoenix 22-6 for the rest of the game.
What separates elite teams from just a playoff team is the ability to run the stretch. There are often close games in a playoff series that come down to a few defining moments. Going into this particular game, the Suns had, by far, the best net rating in the NBA (38.3) in clutch situations while the Mavericks held the league’s worst net rating -28.6 in clutch situations. such times.
During the Suns’ run to close the game, the Mavericks recorded more turnovers (four) than field goals (three). Dallas struggled to get things done offensively while Phoenix separated their half-court defense by singling out Luka Doncic. Let’s see how the Mavericks can overcome these clutch shortcomings going forward in DallasBasketball.com’s latest “Mavs Film Room” session.
Support distribution gaps
It is essential to keep rotations to a minimum against a top team. This is especially true when it comes to crucial late game moments. For the Mavericks, their inability to deal with the basketball proved quite costly as well as poor shot execution.
The Mavericks finished with 19 turnovers, resulting in a staggering 24-point negative spread in points on turnovers. During the Suns’ 22-6 run to close the game, Phoenix put more runs on the board directly from turnovers (ten) than Dallas had overall.
Trusting some of the non-Doncic players in the later stages of the game didn’t lead to favorable results, but it was a necessity with the way the Suns tried to get the ball out of his hands. A key difference between a competitor like the Suns and Mavericks is that complementary players can step up and consistently make positive plays. It was pretty shaky for Dallas’ top support players.
Early in the Suns’ run, the Mavericks had one possession where a failure to even get the ball to Doncic resulted in a turnover. Bridges deterred the initial pass, then Booker changed to further deny him the ball. Meanwhile, Biyombo gets aggressive with Kleber to snatch the ball.
There was a chance early in this Suns run for Brunson to make “star” play. On a broken play where Phoenix took the ball out of Doncic’s hands, Brunson had a chance to convert on a 3-point pull-up against Paul on an isolation but couldn’t knock it down.
Porzingis, who was signed to a max contract, had a lag in the post that ended with him firing a fadeaway that missed the glass. No, not near the square, the top corner of the glass. Keep in mind there’s a 15-inch height differential between Porizngis and Paul, but the shot didn’t get any closer to the off-the-hook jumper.
Brunson tried to go down against Crowder with Paul sliding on the ball to force an early pick-up instead of returning the ball to Doncic in a dribble pass. It’s a game that must end with a make if the superstar doesn’t pick it up. Instead, Brunson performs the pull-up and is called for a trip.
Perhaps the most truly puzzling plays came near the start of this Suns run when Doncic made a routine pass to Powell for him to blatantly fumble on the catch. Booker immediately gets a finish on the other end to give Phoenix the lead.
The Suns’ efforts to get Doncic to become a passer and other Mavericks players to try to beat them continued. This time Phoenix has Booker ICE to stop Doncic from using the ball screen. Porzingis now has to make a play on the pop and Bridges barely not coming with the steal leaves Hardaway Jr. wide open in the corner.
Hardaway Jr. ended up missing another catch-and-shoot look from the corner after the Suns charged onto Doncic in a ball screen to get him through. Had Hardaway Jr. converted in his final game, the Mavericks would still have trailed by two points with 1:19 left in the game.
With just one last possession to shake things up for a real game, the Mavericks supporting cast is once again empty. Doncic receives a DHO from Brunson for Bridges to put him out again. This time, the Suns send two to the ball when Porzingis sets the ball screen.
Doncic eventually passes it to Hardaway Jr. to retrieve it with Crowder keeping it on an island high up in the key. The Suns allowed Doncic to deepen his training before sending in help and rotating Porzingis from the dunk spot. Finney-Smith has to descend and faces a busy lane. Booker is then able to blast Finney-Smith’s finish attempt.
Again, it was clear that the Suns’ top priority was to get the ball out of Doncic’s hands in stride. It was mostly up to his teammates to make plays out of the socket or save a broken play, but they were simply unable to show up when they needed them most.
Suns chase Doncic on defense
With Doncic taking on such a heavy load on offense as a starter, it’s understandable that he might not be able to deliver an All-Defensive First Team caliber effort every play. However, he is clear that the Suns took full advantage of his lack of attention in a very avoidable way on Thursday night.
The Suns do a great job deploying decoy actions in their half court offense to keep the low man from spinning and impacting against the rim roll when performing ball screens. With a point guard like Chris Paul, he’s often going to take full advantage if there’s no help.
The biggest example came when the Mavericks still held a 97-96 lead in the fourth quarter. Using a decoy corner pinning screen, Doncic stays upright and watches play instead of doing a low spin. Biyombo swiped the ball with precision reading Kleber playing close to level and pinned Finney-Smith behind him to set up a wide, open roll.
The Suns know in this situation that Doncic isn’t necessarily a Draymond Green-type threat as a low man who’s going to fully commit to blasting the finish on the run. Involving him in a decoy action instead will freeze the potential threat of an assist rotation.
The Suns relied on Bridges to take full advantage of Doncic’s presence in their matchup. With the game tied 99-99 around the three-minute mark, Bridges made a one-on-one to give the Suns a two-point advantage. While not a flashy game, it was a pivotal one nonetheless.
Doncic starts possession looking around the unit as Bridges heads for the ball. Doncic attempts to recover after acknowledging Bridges had caught. However, Bridges’ decision to turn immediately downhill and maximize his advantage by pushing the ball forward creates a gale and results in an easy float in the lane.
Needing a stoppage with just under two minutes left and facing a three-point deficit, Doncic ball watches and gives up a long rebound to Bridges. Not only that, he’s beaten on the recovery and forced Finney-Smith to assist out of the dunk spot – dropping a wide open dunk to Biyombo.
To Doncic’s credit, there have been quite a few stretches this season when he played with a lot of energy in defense and made some impressive plays. However, there were some costly gaffes on his part defensively in that game, when the Suns operated in the half court, that were happening even in the first quarter.
To be clear, there was plenty of room for improvement for the Mavericks defense as a whole in this game. Either way, Doncic must consistently bring a high level of focus and confidence to this end of the field if Dallas is to perform better in clutch moments, especially when the opponent takes the ball out of his hands. as closer.
As good as the Dallas Mavericks have been lately, they still struggle to get into endgame situations. With 34 games remaining, perhaps Doncic and the Mavericks can learn from those shortcomings to be better equipped for the upcoming playoffs.
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