OKLAHOMA CITY – At least the Mavericks figured out how to avoid those late-game letdowns.
Just don’t let the game get close in crunch time.
The Mavericks clearly got mad about their collapse in the final minutes at Utah on Saturday. So they rolled up a nice lead and never let the Chris Paul-less Oklahoma City Thunder make them sweat.
Instead, the Mavericks took a 107-97 victory and were happy to get out of an emotion-filled game with a win.
It was the first time for either team to play since the death of Kobe Bryant on Sunday. Both teams had some challenges maintaining focus, but the Mavericks relied on Luka Doncic and Delon Wright to keep their poise.
Doncic had three strong quarters to help the Mavericks build their lead. He finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
He was not, however, the leading rebounder on the team. Wright had 14 points and 12 rebounds to go with four assists in 27 minutes off the bench. He had six offensive rebounds and totaled 12 offensive boards on the three-game road trip.
“He was great tonight,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He really impacts the game defensively and with the pace that he brings to the game. The rebounding is a very underrated part of his game. And I love the way he’s putting pressure on the rim (with the offensive rebounds).
“It was great to see and in games like this where there’s a lot of speed, he thrives. He’s gotten better and better as the season’s gone along. He’s a great kid. He’s proud to be a Maverick, so it’s all great to see.”
The Mavericks finished their Western Conference road trip 2-1 after winning at Portland and losing at Utah. The successful journey upped their road record to 17-6. They will be at home Tuesday night to face Phoenix.
Wright’s rebounding helped the Mavericks run up 18 second-chance points to just four for the Thunder, a major reason they were able to keep their distance from OKC down the stretch.
“I think I have more energy running to the rim,” Wright said. “It’s what I’ve been doing since I was young and coach Carlisle allowed me to do that.”
The win was important for many reasons, not the least of which was that it kept the Mavericks ahead of the Thunder in the Western Conference standings. They were separated by only a game coming in, but now, the 29-17 and fifth-place Mavericks have a two-game cushion on the 28-20 and sixth-place Thunder.
OKC had won five in a row before Monday.
The Mavericks also are 14-3 in games after losing a game, a very impressive bounce-back statistic.
“We pride ourselves on that,” Wright said.
The Mavericks found out a couple hours before the game that Paul would not be playing because of personal reasons.
The all-star point guard had been longtime friends with Kobe Bryant and his family. Before the game, coach Billy Donovan said Paul was not with the team. Presumably, he was in Los Angeles to grieve with family and friends.
“It was a tough emotional game for both teams and I’m proud of our guys for keeping it together,” Carlisle said. “We caught a break with Chris Paul not playing, that’s obvious.”
It was interesting how the Mavericks never let the Thunder make a run. They had been outscored 14-5 in the final three minutes in Utah to lose a heartbreaker.
On Monday, they led by 16 points in the third quarter until the Thunder ran off 11 in a row. After a timeout, the Mavericks countered with eight in a row, the last six on 3-pointers by Doncic, to move back up 78-65.
The lead never dropped below nine the rest of the way and the Mavericks stretched it to 101-85 with under seven minutes left.
“The third quarter was ratty,” Carlisle said. “But when they cut it to five, we had a really good timeout and the guys stuck together, talked about how they were going to make another run, did it and built the lead back up.”
Powell has surgery: Also on Monday, center Dwight Powell had surgery to repair his ruptured right Achilles tendon.
The procedure was done by Dr. Bob Anderson in Green Bay, Wisc.
“It was a successful surgery with Dr. Anderson,” Carlisle said. “So that’s great news.”
The Mavericks hope Powell will be ready to play by the start of next season.