Luka Dončić is an offensive machine, but he takes a lot more pride in his defense than people think.
That’s why the play that sent Wednesday night’s 120-114 loss to Oklahoma City into overtime made him so mad.
He knew he’d been caught napping on defense.
The Mavericks had taken a 103-101 lead with 8.5 seconds left on Reggie Bullock’s corner 3-pointer that bounced off the rim and the backboard before hitting the net.
The Thunder called timeout and rookie Josh Giddey found a cutting Kenrich Williams, who caught Luka by surprise for an easy layup to tie the game.
“That was my bad,” Dončić said. “I didn’t see it coming.”
When his step-back 3-pointer missed at the buzzer, the Mavericks had to go to overtime and the Thunder never trailed, leaving Dončić exasperated.
“This game is on me,” he said. “I had two bad decisions on the last possessions. It was by far my worst defensive game this year for sure.”
Considering he had 40 points and 10 assists, he was being a little hard on himself. But the overtime-forcing play was a microcosm of the problems the Mavericks have had defensively for several games now.
It’s also why the Mavericks own a losing streak for the first time since Christmas.
Maybe it was the ice storm. Maybe it was a product of Groundhog Day, which would explain the second consecutive dud that the Mavericks produced against a team with one of the worst records in the NBA.
Whatever. They started the longest home stand of the season with a clunker. The Mavericks had not lost consecutive games since Dec. 23 and 25. They were coming off a 110-108 loss at Orlando on Sunday. The Magic brought a 10-40 record into that game.
The Thunder wasn’t much better. Their win Wednesday moved them to 16-34.
The Mavericks fell to 29-23 with the sort of sloppy defensive night that has been all-too-common in the last 10 days. It was no way to start their 12-day stay at American Airlines Center.
And yet, they almost pulled out an improbable victory at the end of regulation.
Bullock’s 3-pointer with 8.5 seconds left, which required a very friendly bounce to go in, gave the Mavericks to steal the win on a night when they had been playing with fire virtually all the way.
Then, they got burned.
Williams, the former TCU Horned Frog, scored and the overtime will never be used on any highlight reels for the Mavericks.
And Dončić’s last shot in regulation wasn’t the best of looks.
“It was a tie game,” Luka said. “I expected the double and then I saw it wasn’t, so I decided to do the step-back.”
The Thunder got a season-best 29 points by rookie Tre Mann and 30 points from Lu Dort, both of whom took liberties with the Mavericks’ porous defense.
Also disturbing was the way the Mavericks looked a step slow much of the night.
“They just played harder the majority of the game than we did,” coach Jason Kidd said. “When it got tight, we started to play better. But they play hard whether they’re winning or losing. We talked about that before the game.”
The last possessions in regulation weren’t as bothersome to Kidd as they were to Luka.
“We scored, put ourselves in position,” Kidd said. “We didn’t want to give up a 3 in that situation. Heck of a pass, heck of a play, heck of a finish for them.”
And as for Luka’s last shot in regulation?
“We give Luka the ball and give him the opportunity to make a decision,” Kidd said. “He had a good look. He’s our best player. We trust that he’ll get a good look and he did. He makes that shot. He got a clean look.”
The Mavericks had fallen behind 84-73 late in the third quarter and spent the entire fourth quarter trying to run down the Thunder, who won for the first time against the Mavericks this season after losing the first three meetings.
And so it was a lousy start to the longest home stand of the season. Five of the six opponents have losing records, as of Wednesday. The one that doesn’t, Philadelphia, will come to AAC on Friday.
It’s possible the Mavericks will have Kristaps Porzingis back on Friday. Coach Jason Kidd said the 7-3 Porzingis, who missed his second consecutive game with a right knee bone bruise, was improving, but still day-to-day.
Obviously, the Mavericks could use Porzingis against the Sixers, who have a legitimate MVP candidate in big man Joel Embiid.
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