An impressive Portland Trail Blazers defense won out Thursday, putting the Dallas Mavericks on the bad end of a 21-point blowout. Dallas' third-quarter woes weren't the primary cause for this defeat, but for the fifth straight game, Dallas was shaky coming out of the locker room after halftime.
This is a problem. Opponents have beaten the Mavericks by an average of 12.8 points per third quarter through five games this year, lighting up the scoreboard by a 34-21.2 average score.
This is most concerning for Rick Carlisle's squad because they'd been excellent in the other three quarters prior to Thursday night. The Mavericks were 3-1 heading into the Moda Center and had been impressive with a league-leading offense that still sits atop the NBA at 112.5 points per 100 possessions.
Is human nature to blame for the third quarter problems?
The Mavericks have let their foot off the gas pedal to open second halves after playing phenomenally in the first halves of games. They've entered halftime with an average advantage of 15.4 points. A look at their first half shot chart so far this season (left) next to their third quarter shot chart (right) paints a clear picture of the drastic change before and after halftime.
The red that appears on the right also hurts Dallas on defense. The Mavericks' normally-fantastic offense has been out of sync in third quarters, as they've taking quick shots off one or two passes with just a single screen. Those misses help their opponents get solid looks early in their own offenses as Dallas' defense scrambles to get back.
The Mavericks have allowed double-digit scoring third periods to six players in five games so far. First it was Spurs point guard Tony Parker, then Jazz shooting guard Alec Burks. Tyreke Evans pumped in 16 points, five boards and three assists in a third quarter for the Pelicans, while Anthony Davis added 10. Most recently, it was Jeff Green scoring 10 in the Celtics' 38-point third Monday. As a team, Dallas has allowed opponents to collectively shoot 20-for-40 from three-point range in third quarter play.
Wes Matthews continued the trend Thursday night in Portland, while small forward Nicolas Batum recorded six assists, most of which were as easy as this. The Mavericks went zone on this play but through a miscommunication left Steve Blake wide open.
While Dallas hasn't given up an inordinate amount of traditional fast break points, teams have hardly needed to run their sets against the Mavericks to get good shots. Often, it's been one Mavericks player being out of position like above, or another losing sight of an open shooter. Earlier in the week, Carlisle was frustrated enough to call a timeout 40 seconds into the third quarter against the Celtics when a forced jumper by Dirk Nowitzki led to Green taking it the length of the court without resistance.
Nobody will mistake Jameer Nelson, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons for being elite defenders, but Carlisle is being forced to reset his defensive standards for a team that saw a bit of turnover during the offseason. The defense hasn't been pretty so far, as the Mavericks are second-to-last in the NBA by giving up 110.8 points per 100 possessions. The offense has kept them afloat outside of third quarters, but they need to get better there.
The Mavericks' third quarters are showing that when they toe the line of failing to run that efficient offense, it does more than allows an opponent to catch up. It also plays a part in compounding the defensive deficiencies that are already there.