GAME RECAP: Mavericks 112, Wizards 107

Harrison Barnes scores 22 points, Dirk Nowitzki adds 20 as the Mavericks rally to beat the Wizards 112-107.

Sometimes your starters carry you. Sometimes the bench saves the day.

Wednesday night in Washington, it was both.

The Mavericks would not have become the first team this season to beat the Wizards on the road after trailing by three quarters were it not for Harrison Barnes’ 22 points, or Dirk Nowitzki’s 20. They certainly would not have prevailed without Seth Curry’s 19-point bounce-back performance after shooting 3 of 16 from the field in his last two games. Yogi Ferrell only finished with nine points and three assists, but he quarterbacked an offense down the stretch that consistently found good shots, which often is all you can ask of a point guard.

But they also would not have won if J.J. Barea and Nerlens Noel hadn’t churned out points together in the first half. Last night was the second game in Barea’s career he handed out at least 13 assists off the bench. Brad Davis is the only Mavs reserve in franchise history with two such games. Noel, meanwhile, made it painfully clear why Dallas missed him so much during the three games he missed with a sore left knee.

And then there’s Nico Brussino, the 24-year-old anonymous Argentinian whose “I belong in this league” moment came in the fourth quarter, when he hit back-to-back 3-pointers to bust the game open in the Mavs’ favor, capping off a 12-point comeback win. His offensive rebound and put-back sent Dallas nine points ahead with 3:04, a lead which ultimately proved to be just enough.

Overall, the starters as a group finished the game with a plus/minus of -6, while all other lineups combined to go +11. In Toronto, the starters were +2 while the others were -24. That’s an incredibly significant improvement. The Mavs have won seven of their last eight games when the “other” lineups combine to finish with a positive plus/minus.

I suppose the appropriate thing to do is split credit for the victory right down the middle. For a franchise that has regularly brought some of its best players off the bench for a decade, that seems appropriate. It’s amazing what depth can do for your roster — and Wesley Matthews didn’t even play, sidelined by a calf strain that hopefully won’t prevent him from playing Friday in Philly. Dallas will soon get deeper.

Matthews is a bulldog and will not miss a second more than he needs to, and the returns of Barea and Noel potentially unlock a Mavs second unit that has begun to provide sparks more and more frequently lately.

The Barea-Noel combination is good

Surprise, surprise: J.J. Barea and Nerlens Noel are a really good pick-and-roll combination. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki have long been the best second-unit pick-and-roll combo in the NBA, and there’s a pretty good chance that Barea and Noel are now the second-best. What a luxury that is for the Mavericks.

Barea’s distributing ability is well-known, as is Noel’s verticality and finishing ability. Last night was their first time on the floor together since Noel joined the team, but you wouldn’t have known it from watching them.

[wp_hyena imageurl=’https://www.mavs.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Barea-Noel-PR-alley-oop.gif’ data_hyena='{“slate”:”300,0.10,15″,”player_fade_speed”:”500″,”control_opacity”:”0,0.9″,”fade_speed”:”250,250″,”style”:2}’]

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Given Noel’s effectiveness as a roll man, teams are going to consistently overload the paint to prevent him from getting dunks. The problem with that, however, is it opens up all sorts of looks on the outside for the shooters. For example, look at what Barea sees when he comes off this Noel screen.

That’s a guy with 30,000 career points standing in the corner all by himself. To the Wizards’ credit, Bojan Bogdanovic closed out hard, but Nowitzki was still able to get off a pretty decent look, and he made the shot. (Nowitzki burned defenders a few times with the pump-fake, but Bogdanovic wisely didn’t bite on this one.)

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Arguably the Wizards’ biggest defensive issue on the play above is they allowed Barea to get into the lane. Even though he’s 6-foot (wink wink) he’s still able to send the ball wherever he wants it when in traffic. Those are easy passes for most NBA point guards. The best way to beat a defense is from the inside, which is why more and more teams are beginning to do whatever they can to push pick-and-rolls to the sideline instead of to the middle, whether that means trapping, blitzing, or ICE-ing the ball-handler.

On the play below, the Wizards achieve their goal of keeping Barea himself out of the paint, but Noel’s roll gravity demands defensive attention, and that leaves Nico Brussino wide open on the other side of the floor.

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Part of that defense could be teams simply not respecting Brussino as a shooter, which is reasonable given his lack of experience to this point in his career; he probably doesn’t appear on the scouting report. But he could just as easily be Nowitzki or Wesley Matthews or Harrison Barnes or Seth Curry or whoever else, too. What do defenses do in that situation, especially if they show hard against the ball-handler? Does the one remaining defender still abandon the shooter, or does he disregard Noel? It’s a tricky situation to be in, and it’s an equally easy read for Barea. There’s 20 feet between Brussino and the closest defender.

Noel is also a terrific floor-runner for his position. He can beat his man down the court pretty much whenever he wants, especially off an opponent’s miss. That might not seem like too valuable a skill to possess, but when you can turn 4-on-4s and 4-on-3s into 5-on-4s or, better yet, 5-on-3s, all of a sudden that ability has its benefits.

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To be clear, the Mavs are not running a fast break here; they’re simply pushing the pace after a miss. Generally, if any player misses a layup, that player’s team is going to be at an immediate disadvantage going the other way because at least one guy has finished the previous possession at the rim with his momentum carrying him away from the defensive end. But when that one player becomes two, that team is in trouble.

This is what happened just before the sequence above.

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Both Mahinmi and John Wall ended the play basically out of the picture. Recognizing this, the Mavericks pushed the ball quickly, but carefully, up the floor the other way. Look at the first gif again and notice how Noel darts toward the rim, drawing in Bradley Beal, which leaves Devin Harris wide open. It’s simple math: Three guys can’t guard five. They can guard four, potentially, but not five. Noel is the key to that whole sequence, as he was to so many Mavs points last night. Dallas has outscored opponents by nearly 15 points per possession with Noel on the floor in the seven games he’s played, and the Mavericks have won six of them.

Hello, Nico Brussino

If you watched the game or the highlights, you’ve already seen Nico Brussino’s back-to-back 3s. But he made a few big plays up to that point which probably didn’t appear in a highlight reel.

In order for any young player to stick in a rotation, he’s got to gain the trust of both the coaching staff and his teammates. That isn’t always easy to do, especially when a guy can’t even speak the language. Last night, however, Brussino came into the game and started stacking up a bunch of little plays that kept him in the rotation, and he was rewarded at the end of the game with a few of the biggest shots of the night.

This is an example of a little thing: Brussino was caught in a switch against Ian Mahinmi on a break, but he holds his ground, stays vertical to contest the shot, and then collects the rebound. He finished with nine for the game, seven of which came on the defensive end. (The Wizards did not grab a single offensive rebound while he was on the floor, per NBA Stats.)

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Another little thing: He had the recognition and awareness to identify an alley to attack the offensive glass, and he brought down a rare offensive board for his team. Instead of panicking, he patiently pulled the ball out and allowed the Mavericks to reset the offense. Yogi Ferrell would hit a game-tying 3-pointer 10 seconds later.

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Then, to begin perhaps the single-biggest sequence of the game, Brussino chased down John Wall, who slowed up ever so slightly, generating a steal.

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The Mavs would miss on the ensuing possession, but they forced a stop at the other end and then Brussino began his barrage, kicked off by Nowitzki passing up a good look to give the youngster a chance. (Dirk was also the first to dap the rookie after the Wizards called timeout.)

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Following the stoppage, the Wizards missed two free throws, Brussino gathered the defensive rebound, and then he hit the shot of his career to this point.

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That’s how you earn the trust of your teammates and coaching staff: Make little plays, then make big plays. Dallas reserves made plenty of them in Washington, and without them the Mavs would not have pulled off an improbable victory.

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