That laser-like focus usually associated with the Dallas Mavericks when Luka Dončić is on the court just wasn’t there Friday night against the Indiana Pacers. That’s because Dončić wasn’t on the court.
With their superstar point guard sitting this game out with lower back tightness, the Mavs just didn’t have what it took to beat the Indiana Pacers. Behind 22 points and 15 rebounds from Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers were able to seize control of the game in the second quarter and race to a 109-94 victory over the Mavs at American Airlines Center.
The loss dropped the Mavs to 23-20 going into Saturday’s game in New Orleans, while Indiana increased its record to 21-23.
Part of the reason the Mavs churned out just 17 assists and were only 8-of-35 from 3-point range was due to the absence of Dončić. Their eight 3-pointers were the same amount that Doncic converted during last Sunday’s victory in Portland.
“Look, he’s an MVP candidate, so you’re going to miss a guy like that in a lot of ways,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But we had enough talent and guys available tonight to win this game. We just didn’t execute the way we needed to.
“We didn’t defend well, we didn’t put defense as a priority in the first half. The second half we did. We made a significant amount of progress, but it was too late.”
The Mavs were also without the two players – JJ Redick and Nicolo Melli — they acquired early Friday in the trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. Redick is dealing with some right heel soreness, and Melli is not yet with the Mavs.
Asked if the Mavs were getting good looks against the Pacers and the shots simply weren’t falling, guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said: “I would say that. A little bit of that and a little bit of them doing a great job of getting it out. Even though we scored the ball they get it out and they’re putting it right back at us.
“You’ve got to give them credit of not settling, of attacking and knocking in their open shots. (Euless Trinity high school product) Myles Turner, he played great, he did an unbelievable job on the defensive end of getting (seven) blocked shots. The blocked shots were huge for them, so he definitely made his presence felt coming back home.”
The Mavs only trailed, 31-29, after the first quarter. But the Pacers built 61-48 lead at the intermission.
“The third quarter was much better,” Carlisle said. “We were into the ball defensively, we had leverage defensively, we created some turnovers and some missed shots and then the ball started moving great. We had it cut down to four at one point and then they hit another spurt.
“It’s the story of the importance of getting strong starts. Even if you don’t have the lead necessarily at halftime, it’s hard going in there with a 13-point deficit, because you’re just digging out, digging out, digging out, the whole way.”
Kristaps Porzingis kept the Mavs afloat in the early going with 13 points and seven rebounds in the first quarter. By halftime, Porzingis had already piled up 15 points and 13 rebounds.
That’s the first time in Porzingis’ career he’s ever pumped out a double-double in the first half of a game. And the 13 rebounds are the most he’s ever grabbed in any half during his career.
Overall, Porzingis collected 31 points and a career-high tying 18 rebounds as he was 12-of-28 from the field in a season-high 38 minutes. The 28 field goal attempts ties for the most he’s ever attempted in a game. He also had 28 field goal attempts during a Dec. 22, 2017 game against Detroit and a March 4, 2020 game against the Pelicans.
“I kind of just wanted to play my game, be aggressive, but also involve everybody and make sure we’re playing good basketball,” Porzingis said. “Tonight I felt like so many little things didn’t go our way and obviously there’s always things you can do better as a team.
“But I feel like all those rebounds, those long bounces from their missed shots just weren’t going our way at all, and the game was just an uphill battle. We felt we had our good moments, but overall it was a tough one and it’s definitely one that we can look back and learn some stuff from.”
The Pacers, who got 22 points and six rebounds from Malcolm Brogdon, certainly taught the Mavs a thing or two while building their lead to as much as 21 points in the fourth quarter. Indiana shot 43.7 percent from the field, made 20 of their 47 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc, and scored at lest 27 points in every quarter but the third when they scored 21 points.
“Our goal is obviously to hold a team to 25 (points a quarter), but we didn’t get that done, but we were able to stay closer and in reach to take the lead,” said Hardaway, who popped in 16 points. “I believe it was the second quarter – the second unit.
“I take pride in our second unit. Even though I wasn’t out there, I felt like I needed to be more engaged with that part of the game. Those are my guys and I just got to do better next game.”
The Mavs obviously hope to do better against the Pelicans. They also have another hope on their wish-list.
“Hopefully, Luka will be able to play tomorrow night,” Carlisle said. “We’ll see. If not, it’s going to be next man up again.”