CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cavaliers simply could not match up with the lengthy and skilled Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night.
With Luka Doncic standing 6-foot-7, and Kristaps Porzingis at 7-foot-3, the Mavericks repeatedly took advantage of matchups. The Cavs were scrambling as the Mavericks spread the floor, and the Mavericks had open threes throughout the game.
Cleveland, which has defended decently to begin the season, gave up a season-high 48.8% from the 3-point line on its way to a 131-111 loss at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
“They got more open looks than they’ve been getting,” Cavs coach John Beilein said. “That’s on us to improve our defense. So really a tough team to match up with. Some of the ball-screen action they were doing, we just had no answers for them because of height at both positions, both at the guard position and at the big man position.”
Doncic, the Mavericks’ top-tier playmaker, ran the Mavericks’ offense to perfection. He had his second straight triple-double, scoring 29 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and dishing 15 assists. He made a season-high five 3-pointers.
Porzingis, perhaps the perfect complement to Doncic’s game, had quality looks. He shot 4-of-6 from the 3-point line and scored 18 points.
On the play below, Doncic and Porzingis ran a quality pick and pop. Doncic drew attention from Cleveland, and Collin Sexton really had no choice but to get through the screen and stick with Doncic. Doncic could have pulled up or shot one of his stepbacks.
But because he’s a versatile and smart player, he made the correct play. Doncic’s pass is great, but the read is even better. His high basketball IQ makes him one of the toughest players to defend in the league.
“It just goes to show you how impressive he is,” the Cavs’ Kevin Love said of Doncic’s triple-double. “Nothing fazes him, nothing speeds him up.”
The Cavs just didn’t have the size to contain the Mavericks on defense. But their offense didn’t perform well either because of Dallas’ length.
The Mavericks thwarted one of the Cavs’ best actions: a lob off a high ball screen. The video below shows a successful high ball screen and lob between Darius Garland and Tristan Thompson.
It was the Cavs’ home opener against the Indiana Pacers. To begin the play, Love set a screen for Garland, and Garland dribbled to the top of the arc. Thompson then screened for Garland, but Pacers big man Myles Turner didn’t decide quickly enough whether to stop Garland or play the pass. Because of Turner’s indecision, Garland had an easy pass to Thompson.
Here is a video of an unsuccessful high ball screen from Sunday night. Sexton received a screen from Thompson, who then rolled to the hoop. Turner is one of the best shot blockers in the league. But Porzingis, another good rim protector, played this play perfectly. He essentially ate up the paint, giving no room for the pass.
And then on top of that, Jalen Brunson did well remaining attached to Sexton. There was just no play to be had.
“They’re so big,” Beilein said of Dallas. “You just can’t go in there. I mean, Porzingis is great (at) rim protection. They’re just big. You can’t even see over them.”
Garland said he was still seeing the same things off pick-and-rolls. Love was open for threes, and he tied a season-high with five 3-pointers.
But aside from Cleveland making a season-high 18 threes, being effective inside was a challenge. The Cavs scored 28 points in the paint.
“The length is just incredible, so it’s really tough to test them in the paint,” Love said. “They shut it down in there. They converged down there. We need to be able to spray out and hit some hockey assists and swing-swing passes. We just didn’t do that tonight.”
As the Cavs prepare for the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, they’ll play a team that has multiple players who can create off the dribble. Love said they’ll need to defend the 3-point line better. The Celtics have shot 35.0% from the 3-point line through five games.
“I know that Boston can score from really all over the floor, but we need to definitely run guys off the line,” Love said. “We need to know when we’re switching up, who we’re going to switch with. Just get into the ball more.”