Here’s our takeaways from Monday’s strong-willed 120-116 victory over Milwaukee, which snapped the Bucks’ 18-game winning streak.
This is why they play the games: Nobody in their right mind would have seen this Mavericks’ win coming. Not without Luka Doncic (sprained right ankle). And not in Milwaukee. But the Mavericks came out with focus and a gritty attitude and had the Bucks on their heels virtually all night. Give credit to the coaching staff. The game plan was simple, but effective and the defensive sets against Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez took those players completely out of the game. Yes, the Greek Freak got 48. But when the rest of the starters only get 23, that’s a pretty salty night’s work defensively. Through three quarters, the Bucks shot just 38.5 percent and had only 76 points. Players like Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith gave the Mavericks a backbone that they had to have. Very strong overall show of will.
Road warriors: The Mavericks now are 10-2 on the road. They won only nine times on the road last season. And the locales of some of their road wins – at Lakers, at Rockets, at Nuggets and now at the Bucks – those are massive accomplishments. Only the Bucks and Lakers have better road records than the Mavericks. While it’s true that their home record could use a little work, slipping into beast mode on the road usually serves a team very well for the long haul. It’s clear now that the Mavericks are going to be a force in the Western Conference. They would love to keep plugging forward and earn a home-court advantage in the first round. But their approach to road games suggests that it’s not a dealbreaker for them if they don’t.
Ham-and-egging it: Without Doncic, the Mavericks clearly are going to need other hands to pick up the slack. Two players who appear ready to do that are Tim Hardaway Jr. and Seth Curry. Curry scored 26 points against the Bucks and two games before that had 30 against Detroit in Mexico City. Meanwhile, Hardaway had 28 against Miami and 29 two games before that against Sacramento. Having two players who can ring up a 25-point-plus game on any given night is something that is very helpful for somebody like Kristaps Porzingis, who figures to be the No. 1 offensive option until Doncic gets back.
Speaking of Porzingis: He was very good against the Bucks and actually has been on the uptick for the last three games. He’s had 20 or more points in all of them and is averaging 22.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in that stretch. That it’s come against three Eastern Conference teams suggests that Porzingis hasn’t forgotten how to rumble with the more physical style in the East. This was a great step for Porzingis.
Not out of the storm yet: The Mavericks are to be commended for rising to the challenge in their first game of the season without Luka Doncic. But they can’t get too giddy about it. For years, NBA coaches have known that a team can rally around each other when it loses a marquee player. But that battle cry often does not have the staying power that teams would like. Teams like Boston, which is coming to AAC on Wednesday are going to break down the tape of what the Mavericks did against the Bucks and strategize against it. That doesn’t mean the Mavericks can’t repeat their manly effort in Milwaukee. But it won’t be easy.