The question to Delon Wright on Monday was about closing out NBA games that come down to the final few possessions.
Believe it or not, not all of them do.
But when they are decided by crunch-time execution, the Mavericks have not been good. They are 14-23 in what the NBA defines clutch games – those within five points or fewer in the final five minutes of regulation.
None of the other six Western Conference teams that have clinched a playoff spot are worse than 17-12.
Wright played on a Toronto team two years ago that was pretty good at closing out close games, going 25-19 (eighth in the league).
So is it a case of a veteran team knowing how to win? Or is there an attitude that teams cultivate that helps them persevere in tight situations?
“It’s a combination of both,” Wright said after the Mavericks practiced at the NBA bubble. “The team in Toronto, we (had) a lot more veterans, a lot of the guys had been to the playoffs. We kind of knew what we were doing down the stretch.
“With this team, we’re still learning. A lot of the guys are new to play with each other. There’s things you go through to be champions. You learn how to win first and other things follow. I think it’s a learning curve and once we figure that out, we’ll be a lot better.”
In their first two games of the NBA restart, the Mavericks lost in overtime to Houston when they booted away a seven-point lead in the last 45 seconds. They followed that with Sunday’s 117-115 loss to Phoenix.
The Mavericks know they are headed to the playoffs, likely as the No. 7 seed. The odds are very favorable that they will play the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. The Clippers, by the way, are 17-12 in clutch games.
“I’m optimistic that we can certainly do better,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “That said, when you got a group that’s young and hasn’t played together all that long, there’s going to be challenges.
“We’re not going to make excuses about it. We got to own it. We got to address it, talk about it. We got to understand at the end of the game, the things that happened during the game accumulate and have a great impact on the end of the game.”
That’s a sore subject for the Mavericks. They let a double-digit lead get away in the third quarter against the Suns after Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker, Phoenix’s two best players, went to the bench in foul trouble. Taking care of business right then would have avoided the late-game letdown.
“We talk about things honestly,” Carlisle said. “We don’t hide from it. You got to face these things directly, head on.
“ Look, we got work to do. There’s no excuse. We got to execute better. We’re making it a priority. And closing games in the NBA is hard. So we got to take the challenge. It’s as simple as that. No one’s going to dodge the responsibility or the fact that we’ve had big challenges. We got to do better.”
Losing two games by a combined six points, one of them in overtime, means the Mavericks are doing a lot of good things. They are putting themselves in position.
But failure to close out a win is something that can get in a team’s head, although the Mavericks don’t see that as the problem. Maxi Kleber said it’s an attention-to-detail problem, such as his inability to block out Robert Covington on a missed free throw that allowed Houston to force overtime.
“I think it’s too early to call it an emergency situation,” Maxi Kleber said. “We’re coming back from a long time off, obviously. We made a lot of stupid mistakes. Like for me, it was a bad box out. We could have sealed the game right there. Stuff like that can’t happen. We got to have the mentality to finish games.
“It’s good that it’s happening now. We have a good team, a very talented team. We just got to do better on the small details and finish the games.”