It’s funny how quickly you can go from being just so excited about the return of sports and being able to watch your favorite team play basketball again to being insanely angry in just a matter of hours. Well, that’s what happens when the Mavericks lose a game the way they did on Friday night against the Houston Rockets.
One minute you’re watching the game with a smile as the Mavericks seem to be cruising towards scoring 140 or 150 in regulation, the next you’re wondering what in the world just happened as they find themselves playing the foul game late in overtime after Luka Doncic fouls out. It was a harsh snap back into the reality of being a Mavericks fan during the 2019-2020 season.
This team does not know how to close games.
Their offense is as elite as they come, the stats back that up 100%, but they aren’t always just cruising to victories down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Despite them having the sixth-best point differential in the league at +5.9, NBA.com’s team clutch stats has them as just 14-22 in “clutch” games this season and with a horrible net rating of -17.9, only better than the Detroit Pistons and the New Orleans Pelicans (who also struggled down the stretch during their opening restart game on Thursday).
A -17.9 rating in clutch situations?! If you take away the clutch clarification, the team’s net rating shoots up to sixth in the league at +5.6. So from the opening tip through the middle of the fourth quarter, things are usually cruising at an elite level for the Mavs and their offense. Once the game gets tight and slows down in the final five minutes of a close game, they suddenly can’t score. Considering Dallas’ offense is run through their head coach and their fringe MVP candidate superstar, they should probably be the ones held most responsible. Neither have the most productive ways of talking about why these issues keep happening.
“This is about as tough as it gets, and it just comes down to basic execution,” Rick Carlisle said after Friday night’s loss to the Rockets. “A lot of this stuff comes down to details. I take full responsibility for the loss. 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.”
Carlisle can be under fire for his decisions to not play an insanely hot-shooting Trey Burke down the stretch in favor of Seth Curry who was quiet all night. Or perhaps for not substituting in 7’4 Boban Marjanovic on the one play in the game where you absolutely needed a rebound if one was up for grabs. Aside from Carlisle, Seth Curry shouldn’t have split two free throws with a chance to make it a four point game with under ten seconds remaining. Yes, those things sting, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that the team’s best player just simply doesn’t create offense down the stretch of games like he is able to for the rest of them. What did he have to say about the game?
“We’re a young team. We’ve got a lot to learn. We’ll get better for sure,” Luka Doncic said postgame. “I know we’re going to get together when it matters most to the players, so I’m not worried about that.”
Things will just magically get better? I don’t think so.
Luka was similar to his coach in placing blame on himself, particularly pointing out his poor three point shooting performance (1-9 on the night). I’m glad both of these guys realize that they need to do better and they’re both high character individuals who wouldn’t blame others for their own shortcomings or mistakes, but the two of them need to have a heart-to-heart to figure out how to solve this problem for the rest of the team. Doncic has a net rating of 6.1 throughout the entire game, but it free falls to a -12.2 in clutch situations. What’s even more shocking are Luka’s shooting splits in this situation.
I will admit that if you look at the clutch stats of Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. or Seth Curry, their numbers aren’t any better. This is a team-wide issue. But the Mavericks offense runs through their 21-year-old superstar who rightfully gets an absolutely insane amount of praise for how good he is. Like having his name thrown around in the MVP debate. If you want to have your guy touted as a legitimate MVP candidate, then you have to hold him accountable when he disappears down the stretch in games.
Virtually all the Mavericks are playing now are games with playoff levels of intensity. There will be plenty more close games. Ideally, they show signs of improvement before they actually begin a first round playoff series this month.
If they don’t, they’ll be leaving the bubble before the end of August.
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