With no Luka Doncic or Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas’ struggles came with no surprises.

The 116-108 loss is an indictment of how difficult it is to find energy in the second game of a back-to-back. Dallas made things interesting late, but in the end, the early deficit proved too much to overcome for a Mavericks team without its two best players.

Key observations on Thursday’s game:

1.)  A slow first quarter doomed the Mavs’ efforts late. Dallas was outscored 35-19 in the first frame. The Oklahoma City Thunder shot a blazing 62 percent from three, and as a team, they never looked back from the quick start in Thursday’s game.

“It was all about the first quarter,” Rick Carlisle said. “We just had to get off to a better start. We weren’t right, and the ball wasn’t moving. Defensively we weren’t concentrating well enough and didn’t have enough presence. So we are looking at a difficult night.

2.) The battle on the glass wasn’t much of a battle. Dallas was outrebounded 55-37. The inability to corral key possessions, and keep players like Moses Brown and Al Horford off of the backboard sunk Dallas’ comeback efforts throughout the contest.

“I think the level of physical presence just wasn’t there,” Carlisle said. “We played smaller in the second half which made it more difficult. When a team gets outrebounded like this, it points to the fact you didn’t have the physical posture or the mental edge coming into the game.”

OKC’s great offensive game:

3.) Oklahoma City shot the leather off of the basketball. The Thunder are not a very good offensive team. Coming into the night Oklahoma City sat 27th in the league in points per game. The calling card for the Thunder is its defense. However, against the Mavs, the Thunder shot 50 percent from three. As a team, the Thunder made 16 in the game.

“Rotations weren’t good enough early and then they just got going,” Carlisle said. “They were shooting over 60 percent for most of the game, and that points to the fact that defensively we had to be better. We let them get going.”

The Thunder got in their comfort zone because the Mavericks didn’t “make them feel us.” in the words of Jalen Brunson.

Dallas’ effort and standout performance:

4.) Josh Richardson played one of his best games of the season. It’s frustrating that it came in a loss. Richardson scored 27 points, shooting 10-15 from the floor and grabbed six rebounds. He guarded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander most of the night, and he made things difficult for the young guard. There is something about coming home to Oklahoma that Richardson must love.

“I was being aggressive,” Richardson said. “I only know how to work. I’ve been in the gym and didn’t take any time off during the All-Star break.”

 5.) Dallas fought in this game. Without Doncic and Porzingis the Mavs could have mailed this game in. Instead, they fought back after being down 20 two times. That effort is something to hold onto going forward.

“I am proud of how we fought, but I just wish it was sooner,” Richardson said.

Looking forward:

Dallas’ next five games are brutal. The Mavericks play the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. From there, the team plays the Los Angeles Clippers twice, and the Portland Trail Blazers twice. Resting Doncic and Porzingis against the Thunder made sense, even though Dallas doesn’t have many games it can afford to lose.

Nighs like this happen in the NBA. There is no reason to burn your team’s superstars out playing against bad teams. Fully expect that both Doncic and Porzingis will be ready to play against Denver on Saturday.

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Feature image via Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

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