The Sacramento Kings have a reputation for their third-quarter collapses.
Before the New Year’s Eve match with the Mavericks, Kings’ coach Alvin Gentry said: “The third quarter thing is still something that is very bothersome. I looked at the last four or five games we had and I wish I had an answer for it.”
Clearly, they didn’t come up with anything on Friday.
The Mavericks were the beneficiaries as they ran off a 24-2 blitz in the third quarter and cruised to a 112-96 victory at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
It leveled the Mavericks at 2-2 on this trip that ends Sunday at Oklahoma City. They crept back within a game of .500 overall at 17-18.
Eight times in 37 games, more than 20 percent of their games, the Kings have been outscored by at least eight points in the third quarter.
The Mavericks lit them up 32-20 in the third quarter and if you add on the second frame, the Mavericks were up 60-37 in those two periods.
That rendered the final 12 minutes as little more than a victory lap.
“We didn’t really talk about the way they play in the third quarter, we talked about the way in the last game we were down and came out swinging defensively and offensively,” coach Jason Kidd said.
“Yes they have been struggling in the third, but basketball can be cruel if you rely on that. I thought in the third quarter we came out on both ends – sharing the ball (offensively) and then defensively talking and helping one another and just giving one tough shot. That put us in position to take control of that game.”
And they did that with authority.
So, at the very least, the Mavericks can leave the rather forgettable (for many reasons) 2021 in the rear-view mirror on a positive note.
They got superior showings from Jalen Brunson (23 points, eight assists, five rebounds) and Kristaps Porzingis(24 points, nine rebounds, six assists). But pretty much every Maverick who played had a positive impact.
One of those was Reggie Bullock, who returned from his stint in health and safety protocols. In his first game back, he had 16 points and five rebounds while hitting 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
He was on the court when the Mavericks broke free from a tie at 67 with their remarkable run that put them up 91-69. So what did Kidd say when he called timeout with the score tied?
“He pretty much came down to the huddle with two words: slow down,” Bullock said. “Everyone slow down. And everyone was able to knock down shots.”
The Mavericks indeed shot the ball well, hitting 52 percent from the field and 9-of-22 3-pointers. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the 3-point attempts were their lowest total of the season.
But getting easy shots was.
“It definitely was an emphasis,” Brunson said. “We found a way to get stops and play off our defense the rest of the game. It’s a fun game when we’re out there running and playing off each other. Very fun.
“We were trying to get out there and run. I don’t want to say we were hunting 2-point shots or not hunting 3-point shots. But we were trying to run. We were able to get easy baskets.”
The game also reinforced a new trend that has emerged for the Mavericks and many other teams.
The NBA the last two seasons has scheduled a lot more situations of teams playing each other two games in a row.
It’s the fifth time this season the Mavericks have played the same team twice in a row.
The first time, Phoenix got them both times when the Mavericks were playing their first two games of the season without Luka Dončić.
Since then, the Mavericks have split two games with the Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans, Minnesota and, now, Sacramento.
The Mavericks were without 10 of their 23 players on the roster. Eight of them are in the NBA’s health and safety protocols: Dončić, Boban Marjanović, Tim Hardaway Jr., Brandon Knight, Trey Burke, Maxi Kleber, Isaiah Thomas and JaQuori McLaughlin. Willie Cauley-Stein (personal) also remains out.
Then, about an hour before game time, guard Frank Ntilikina was ruled out with a left thigh contusion.
And so, the Mavericks rolled out their skeleton lineup again.
And again, they put forth the effort that is required when your opponent is full strength and you are not.
This time, they were rewarded.