The Dallas Mavericks came to Quicken Loans Arena to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in what was a night of beginnings and endings for Cavalier fans. Those at the Q got their first up close look at the Mavericks’ rookie sensation, Luka Doncic. It was also the final game at the Q for Mavs legend and future Hall of Famer, Dirk Nowitzki. While these were exciting moments for the fans, the Cavaliers were more concerned with winning their third game in a row for the first time this season.
With a short-handed roster after the trade for Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavericks went with a starting lineup of Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith, Harrison Barnes, Jalen Brunson, and Maxi Klieber. The Cavaliers countered with Collin Sexton, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood, Cedi Osman, and Ante Zizic. After a cold shooting start to the first two minutes of the game, both teams seemingly scored at will for the next few minutes. The Cavaliers were successful attacking mismatches to score at the basket, while the Mavericks got off to a hot start from beyond the arc. Doncic was the only Maverick able to consistently score at the basket as he was a blur in transition that the Cavaliers simply couldn’t keep up with. The one time Osman was able to stay with him, Doncic hit Dwight Powell for a monster alley oop. Osman was aggressive attacking the basket, and Jordan Clarkson added his usual scoring off the bench. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers defense was the nightmare it’s been all season as Doncic had 18 points in the quarter to give the Mavericks a 40-31 lead.
Luka goes behind the back and then scores on the break! pic.twitter.com/TykUnDw0a2
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) February 3, 2019
Larry Nance Jr. led a burst to start the second quarter as he both finished at the basket and used his emerging playmaking to set up teammates as the Cavs cut the Mavs’ lead to five. Osman gave the Cavs a scare when he rolled his ankle after a basket. He stayed in the game after a time out, but later went back to the locker room with trainer Steve Spiro. The Cavaliers picked it up on defense, particularly on the perimeter, holding the Mavericks scoreless for six minutes as part of a 20-6 run to start the quarter and to take a 51-46 lead after trailing by 11 early in the quarter. David Nwaba came off the bench for six points in his first action in over a month after injuring his ankle. Much of this run came with Nance in for Zizic, and Doncic on the bench for the Mavericks. When both young players returned, Doncic resumed attacking the basket, scoring 28 points in the half and taking the lead back for the Mavericks by a score of 58-55. Osman and Clarkson led the Cavaliers with 10 points apiece, while Nance had 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Nwaba started the second half for Osman, who was ruled out for the rest of the game with an ankle injury. He made an immediate impact, scoring the first six points of the quarter for the Cavaliers as they briefly retook the lead. Doncic switched up his offensive dominance by starting to draw fouls and get to the line. Sexton struggled to finish, but continued to attack the basket and found Ante Zizic who was rolling to the rim. The rookie followed up an offensive foul with a three to tie the game, showing the ups and downs young players have. Despite being in the bonus for much of the quarter, the Cavaliers struggled to get to the line. Meanwhile, the Mavericks began to get to the rim and either finish or get to the line, regaining and extending their lead to double digits before free throws by Clarkson and Mathew Dellavedova brought the Cavs within six as the Mavs led 86-80 heading into the final frame.
The quarter started with lids on the baskets as neither team scored for the first three minutes of the quarter. Both teams took several ill-advised attempts in addition to several players missing some shots they would normally make. Jalen Brunson broke the drought when he knocked down a three while being fouled by Nance. Brunson then knocked down the free throw to give the Mavericks a 10 point lead. After struggling the entire game, Harrison Barnes scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, quite possibly the first time he’s ever scored in the fourth quarter against the Cavs (couldn’t help it). With Osman out, the Cavaliers struggled to score (and defend, of course) as the Mavericks pulled away to win by a final score of 11-98. Doncic finished with 35 points to go along with 11 rebounds and six assists, while Clarkson led the Cavaliers with 19 points.
Things I Noticed
Cedi Osman will not return to game due to a right ankle injury. https://t.co/Nu94gK7oBZ
— Angel Gray (@Angel_Gray1) February 3, 2019
Just as Nwaba comes back, Osman gets hurt. It sure would be nice to see what this team is when they are fully healthy. Chances are, it likely wouldn’t matter much in terms of wins and losses, but a healthy roster would help the Cavaliers better know which of their players fit together well and could be a part of the team’s future. The more information a team has about their players, the better.
As the season has gone on, Jordan Clarkson has begun to score more after getting the ball while running off of screens. This decrease in isolation plays has seemed to increase his efficiency, and helped the Cavaliers move the ball a bit more. Clarkson still tries to iso far too often, but there has been some improvement as he has allowed Matthew Dellavedova to run the second team offense. Now, if he could just show some improvement on defense.
Sexton struggled from the floor tonight, going 4 of 17 from the field. Still, he did a nice job of attacking the basket, and while he only made one three, he took more of them rather than the long twos he had been taking. An improved shot selection is the first step in improving his efficiency as a scorer. Slowing down and letting the game come to him will help as well.
David Nwaba returned tonight for his first action since December 23, missing 18 straight games with knee and ankle issues. He seemed to be on a minutes restriction, but looked good in his limited minutes.
A lineup of Osman, Nwaba, Kevin Love, and either Nance or Tristan Thompson would be strong enough to at least help Collin Sexton develop. He wouldn’t have to take any major defensive assignments, and would have smart offensive players around him, if not great shooters. The lineup would certainly be better than the players Kyrie Irving was surrounded by early in his career. While Sexton’s future may be as a Clarkson type of scorer off the bench, the Cavaliers need to find out what they have in the rookie before making that decision.
The Cavaliers will be back in action Tuesday night when Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics visit the Q. We’ll talk to you then.