DALLAS – Of all the unfortunate things that didn’t go as planned for the Dallas Mavericks in Tuesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, their inability to make successful connections with their free throw attempts is right up there near the top of the list.
While the Spurs were a perfect 18-of-18 from the charity stripe, the Mavs uncharacteristically missed 11 of their 26 free throws attempts. Those costly miscues ultimately loomed large as the Spurs managed to get out of American Airlines Center with a hard-fought 112-105 victory.
The sellout crowd of 20,366 seemed naturally puzzled that rookie Luka Doncic was just 1-of-9 from the free throw line, including missing all three charity throws in the third quarter when he was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer.
“We just had an off night, and they’re a team that doesn’t make mistakes,” coach Rick Carlisle said. They’re 18-for-18 from the line.
“It wasn’t just Luka that struggled. (Maxi) Kleber missed a couple. We have had struggles all year. Dirk (Nowitzki) missed one and missed three the last time we played at home (on Sunday against Houston). Sometimes that happens, but it is a process and it is trusting in your routine.”
Doncic’s misses were so unusual that Carlisle was asked if the talented rookie was feeling OK. After all, Doncic was limited in Monday’s practice due to a left knee strain he suffered late in Sunday’s game against Houston.
Carlisle, however, said he hadn’t heard if Doncic’s knee was bothering him at some point during Tuesday’s game.
“But he didn’t look right,” Carlisle said. “He had a tough night and I probably played him too many minutes, although he is probably at about average or maybe a little under.
“But tough nights happen. We just have to learn from it, get better and get ready for (Thursday’s game at) Denver – another good team.”
Doncic played 34 minutes and also was 5-of-18 from the field while finishing with 12 points, six rebounds, seven assists and nine turnovers. Meanwhile, rookie Jalen Brunson poured in a career-high 34 points – the most points he’s scored in a game since high school.
Brunson was 12-of-16 from the field and also collected five rebounds and four assists.
“He does everything right,” Carlisle said of Brunson. “He works at his craft and pays attention to detail.
“He was having some struggles from the free throw line early in the year and just kept grinding, and since January I think he is shooting somewhere in the eighties. This guy was the 33rd pick in the draft (last summer) and he is pretty damn good.”
Also for the Mavs, Dwight Powell finished with 20 points and seven rebounds, Devin Harris scored 11 points in 16 minutes, and Tim Hardaway Jr. added 10 points.
The loss was the sixth in a row for the Mavs and their 11th in their past 12 games, dropping their record to 27-40.
Despite their problems at the free throw line, the Mavs still were within 102-99 of the Spurs after Powell scored on a hook shot with 1:49 left. However, DeMar DeRozan (33 points) and Derrick White (23 points) each scored to bump the Spurs’ lead up to 106-99 with 58.5 seconds to go.
Brunson followed with a long 2-pointer, and when the Mavs had a chance to make it a one-possession game, Doncic misfired on a pair of free throws with 30.7 seconds remaining. Four free throws by DeRozan and two from Seagoville native LaMarcus Aldridge (28 points, seven rebounds) closed the deal on this game.
“They’re a good team, a playoff team,” said Nowitzki, who tallied all eight of his points in the game’s opening five minutes and 24 seconds. “Today, they kind of dominated.
“We made a few runs, but overall couldn’t get over the hump. We got it down to three, but couldn’t get enough stops to really make it a game. And (14) turnovers hurt us, but you got to give them credit. Obviously, they’re well coached and they’re super smart.”
DeRozan scored 16 points in the opening quarter, which ended with San Antonio ahead, 34-24. White tallied nine points and Aldridge added eight as the Spurs went to the dressing room nursing a 60-53 lead.
Aldridge notched 10 more points in the third quarter and the Spurs assumed an 84-74 lead entering the final quarter. But while the Mavs outscored the Spurs in the paint (40-32), on fast break points (7-4) and on second-chance points (14-12), they simply couldn’t come up with the necessary key stops – or key free throws – to emerge with a victory.
“I don’t know how many games are left, I’m not counting,” Carlisle said. “But I do know there were some positives in this game — we can’t forget about those.
“We have to see things how they are, not worse than they are. The fact that we were even on the boards (at 38-38) is a pretty good sign because the boards have been a problem for us. We have practice tomorrow and will work to get better.”
NOTES: Prior to Tuesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, Rick Carlisle gave kudos to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has led his franchise to five world titles since 1999. “He’s great at everything,” the Mavs’ coach said. “The relationships he has with the players, the strategies. Everything! He’s done an amazing job over two decades now. For me he’s the greatest coach in history, because he re-invented that team several times, won multiple championships playing multiples different styles, and he’s been in one place for an amazing amount of time and it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere any time soon.”. .The Mavs are just 1-9 since the All-Star break, leaving Carlisle to say: “We are disappointed. Guys are working, guys in recent games, our fight has been there and we’ve been going hard and we’re going to stay with it. It’s a very difficult schedule, but these are great opportunities.”. .Before Tuesday, Jalen Brunson’s highest point total in college were the 31 points he scored in four different games last season for Villanova. But he surpassed that with the career-high 34 points he scored against the Spurs. Brunson joined Luka Doncic in the 30-point club for Mavs’ rookies this season. The New York Knicks, with Allonzo Trier and Kevin Knox, are the only other team that’s had two rookies score at least 30 points in a game this season. . .Carlisle knows the schedule will only get tougher for the Mavs as they try and fight for more wins in the final 15 games. He also knows the Mavs let Sunday’s game against Houston slip away when they held James Harden to just 20 points — nearly 17 points under his league-leading average of 36.6 points per game. “Defensively, we’re going to be seeing great players virtually every night through the end of the season,” Carlisle said. “The effort against Harden the other night was tremendous. Guys were really committed. There was no overreaction when he did get a shot or get a dunk. We’ve got to be poise and play through situations where these teams make plays — and great players make plays.”