2 things we learned from the Dallas Mavericks’ win over the Los Angeles Clippers 103-101

Mavericks fans can breathe a sigh of relief after watching their team come away with a narrow 103-101 win over the injury-plagued Los Angeles Clippers in Dallas on Tuesday night. The player of the match is Reggie Bullock, who saved his best for the times when the team needed it most. Bullock hit four threes in the fourth quarter, allowing the Mavericks to hold off the Clippers and avoid a disastrous loss for a team desperate to get back on track.

The starters started hot and set the tone early. Luka Doncic prevailed in the paint and continued to bring the blues to Ivica Zubac. Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith caught fire from the deep and let the Mavericks go into halftime with a 54-32 lead.

Then came the third quarter. The Clippers were able to generate open look after open look while the Mavericks struggled to get the ball in the basket. The bench outside of Christian Wood was just awful. Tim Hardaway Jr. finished the game with zero points thanks to a 0-on-7 night off the field. Maxi Kleber played hot potato in his 10 minutes, refusing to kick the ball with all his might. Josh Green finished the field 0 out of 1 in his 14 minutes but managed to fill all three activity rings on his Apple Watch. That kind of performance off the bench won’t be enough against most teams, and had it not been for Bullock it would have cost the Mavericks this game.

High variance

The stats might tell a different story, but it seems like no team in the NBA has given up as many double-digit leads in such a short span of time as the Dallas Mavericks. Last season, they relied on their defense to keep them going in games where they struggled to kick the ball. This season, sustained shooting slumps have proved disastrous. That puts a huge strain on Luka and makes players like Christian Wood and Spencer Dinwiddie priceless. Without the safety net of a solid defense, it’s impossible to know how the team will fare from night to night. Losses from magic and sorcerers are not aberrations. Instead, they’re a testament to how the team’s defense has declined.

Finney Smith and Bullock are back!

Dorian Finney-Smith broke the 20 point mark for the first time all season and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Finney-Smith was often considered the team’s weakest perimeter shooter, and he was able to pay off more times than defense during the 2021-2022 season. This year, however, has been a bit of a struggle. At 32% from depth, he’s shot well below his career averages and is a step down from his senior year. Hopefully we see positive regression and see more performances as the season progresses like tonight. Finney-Smith hit a career-high seven three-pointers against the Clippers.

Now it’s time to address the elephant in the room. Bullock hit a three-point shot. I repeat Reggie Bullock hit a 3 point shot. This is not an exercise. In fact, he hit four of them in the fourth quarter, and the Mavs needed every one badly during a thrilling finish. While Bullock’s shooting struggles have been a talking point for most of the season, few should find his struggles that surprising. He had a similar start to the season last year and his shooting splits throughout his career can be downright scary early in the season. Usually he better starts shooting in December and then goes to the races from January.

That’s why no one could have expected that kind of performance tonight. He was goalless for the first three quarters but delivered when the team needed him most. As relieved as Mavericks fans are, nobody was happier to see those shots ring out than Bullock himself. If the Mavericks coaching staff can somehow convince him it’s January, maybe we’ll see more of the player he’s in the second half of last season and in the playoffs.

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