The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 133-126 on Thursday night, but this game was a nail-biter when it didn't have to be. Dallas led by as much as 25 points late in the third quarter, but the Sixers battled back and cut the Mavericks' lead to four points in the fourth quarter.
The 76ers started the fourth quarter with a 15-0 run and the game seemed to be slipping out of the Mavs' hands.
Not closing out games has been a problem as of late for Dallas, but head coach Jason Kidd seemed to have learned from the clutch mishaps that have plagued the team as of late.
Why the Dallas Mavericks have to learn to finish games strong
One way that Kidd handled the end of the game against the 76ers differently from the loss against the Lakers was by calling timely timeouts.
In the Lakers game, the Mavericks blew a 27-point lead and weren't effectively using timeouts down the stretch. Kidd only called one in the third quarter as the Mavericks were outscored 31-20 over the 12 minutes. He just didn't seem to want to use timeouts to counter the Lakers' runs.
This came up after the game and Kidd gave an interesting answer on his reasoning for not calling timeouts during these runs.
"I'm not the savior here. I'm not playing. I'm watching just like you guys."
It's a given that Kidd isn't on the court playing, but the head coach's job is to manage the game. Kidd didn't do that in a way that slowed down the Lakers' runs, and it ended up with the unfortunate consequence of a loss in a game that should have been a win.
One of the other several factors that contributed to the loss against the Lakers was Luka Doncic's complaining to the officials. He struggled down the stretch and seemed more interested in arguing with the referees rather than running back and playing defense.
In the final three-quarters of the game, Doncic scored just 12 points, shot 5-14 from the field, and turned the ball over five times. He seemed rattled and this led to the Mavericks not being able to hold on.
Kidd touched on the overall maturity of the team after the game and having to "grow up" to win it all.
"As a team we've got to mature...We have to grow up if we want to win a championship."
Although this quote isn't directly at Doncic, maturing as a team starts with him. The 24-year-old superstar is the leader of the team and the franchise player in Dallas.
But the Lakers' game isn't the only game that the Mavericks narrowly lost.
In the four losses that Doncic and Irving played together, the Mavericks lost by a combined 12 points for an average of three points per loss. This shows that the Mavericks were in position to have a chance to win all of these games but couldn't finish strong.
The Mavericks have to play four quarters of solid basketball in order to win crucial games late in the season and keep winning going to the playoffs. They can't let their foot off the gas in the second half and have to start and finish strong.
Kidd alluded to just that after the loss against the Lakers as he realizes the importance of playing at a high level for the entire game.
"Two and a half quarters, we're playing at a high level on both ends. Offensively and defensively. But what the Lakers just showed us is that it's not a race. It's not the rabbit who wins. It's the turtle. They worked the game and that's what we have to get to. We have to get better at working the game and we will."
Two days after this press conference the Mavericks lost to the Indianna Pacers 124-122 and didn't "work the game" by any means. They played from behind for the final 15 minutes and scored just one point in the final two and a half minutes.
But the Mavericks responded to this loss against the Pacers with a win over the third seed in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers. Even though they didn't necessarily "work the game" as Kidd said, they did the most important thing.
They won the game.
If the Mavericks want to return to the Western Conference Finals or even make the NBA Finals, they must "work the game" and play strong from the opening tip to the final buzzer every night.