DALLAS – Kristaps Porzingis’ back tightness kept him out of Thursday night’s game, posing problems for the Dallas Mavericks, who squeaked past the San Antonio Spurs en route to the third win of the season.

The final score read 104-99 in Dallas’ favor, but it very easily could have gone San Antonio’s way if not for a concerted effort from Dallas’ bench, bringing the team back from a 20-point first-quarter deficit, and Dallas’ fourth-quarter offensive groove, which lulled the Spurs to sleep late.

“We got off to a slow start,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “The bench came in and gave us energy that was much needed. From that point on, we started to get into the game.”

Jalen Brunson led the comeback charge, and he finished 19 points on the night. And typical of the season thus far, Luka Dončić came on late, scoring 18 of his 25 points in the second half.

“Jalen provided energy,” Kidd said. “He’s been playing great for us.”

With the game hanging in the balance midway through the fourth quarter, Dončić went on an offensive run on his own, hitting step-back 3-pointers and finally connecting with Dwight Powell on dives to the rim. More on that later.

What once was an off and quiet night at the office for Dončić, quickly turned active and mesmerizing. However, this is nothing new. Sans a pair of missed free throws and an untimely turnover late, Dončić provided a masterclass in closing out an NBA team desperate for a win. 

“I was way more aggressive in the fourth than the first few quarters,” Dončić said. “I got to do that through the whole game.”

And Dallas’ comeback effort – through multiple games this season – appears to be a trend, not an aberration.

“It’s not that hard, it’s effort,” Kidd said. “In the past, they [the Mavericks] relied on outscoring the other team. It’s defense. We were down, but it was the defense.”

The Dwight Powell conundrum. 

Powell is a dynamic rim-roller at his best. And at his worst, he’s an offensive liability who struggles to find his shot on the floor. So far, this season, he’s been more of the latter.

For nearly three quarters, San Antonio bottled up Powell’s trademark rim runs. If not for a fourth-quarter in which San Antonio’s defense switched everything, Powell’s night would have looked a lot worse in the box score.

He finished a minus-15 in box-score plus-minus. On a majority of looks around the basket, he shot 41 percent. And he was a non-factor on the glass, grabbing three total rebounds in 24 minutes.

To add insult to his abhorrent play this season, Powell is a minus-7 in box-score plus-minus through four games. Though it is a small sample size, it is concerning. He was named the starter early in training camp, and four games in things clearly aren’t working. If not now, Kidd has to make a change soon.

Maxi Kleber’s big night. 

What Powell lacked as a starter, Maxi Kleber made up for as a reserve. He scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. And the stat of the night was the six blocks he collected against unsuspecting Spurs players.

“Sometimes it’s just instinctive,” Kleber said. “Tonight was one of those nights where you see guys get beat and you just come over to help.”

His presence on the floor changed the game for Dallas. It was he and Brunson who made plays to pull the Mavericks out of the depths of a 20-point deficit. And it was he and Brunson that kept Dallas’ foot on the peddle when the game almost slipped away in the third quarter.

Looking ahead: 

The downside of comebacks is that they require intense energy and effort to claw out of an early deficit. And it doesn’t help that Dallas has a game on the second night of a back-to-back against the Denver Nuggets. However, if Thursday night showed anything about this Mavericks team, it’s that the players on the roster and coaching staff understand how to handle in-game adversity and find a way to win.

Related Mavericks reading

“Brunson and Dončić: Exploring ‘the zone,’ but with a passing twist.” 

“Bullock shows his value in Dallas’ home-opening win over the Houston Rockets.” 

“Rise and Fall: Which way Mavericks players are trending after week one.” 

Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.