DALLAS – The love affair with Dennis Smith Jr. began when he received a thunderous ovation during the pre-game introductions from the American Airlines Center sellout crowd of 19,466.
Smith took it from there, speeding up the floor for 17 points and also contributing eight rebounds and four assists as the Dallas Mavericks snapped a four-game losing streak by soaring to 106-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night.
No one had to tell coach Rick Carlisle what Smith means to his team. If there were any doubts, it was on full display against the Clippers.
“I thought it was great, really tremendous and everything we needed,” Carlisle said. “Speed, attacking, shot-making, a couple of amazing assists.
“He played, really, one of the best games since he’s been here. There was a tad of rustiness, but I tell you what, he shook it off fast and he just played a brilliant game.”
It was vintage Smith, who had missed the previous six games with either an illness or tightness in his back. In the first half, Smith fed DeAndre Jordan for a nifty alley-oop dunk, and then flew coast-to-coast for a spellbinding layup.
In the third quarter, with his juices really flowing, Smith executed a dandy play when he scored on a scoop shot. Then he took a pass from Jordan and scored on a jumper while barely beating the 24-seocnd shot clock.
And in the fourth quarter, a long alley-oop pass from Smith to Jordan for a dunk gave the Mavs a 99-93 lead with two minutes remaining in the game. A jumper by Luka Doncic and a 3-pointer by Harrison Barnes padded the Mavs’ led to 104-95 with 52.7 seconds remaining in the game as the Mavs improved to 1-7 on the back end of a back-to-back.
“The one (pass) where Doncic got it and threw it ahead to him and he hit (Jordan) for the alley-oop (dunk) was beautiful basketball,’ Carlisle said of the critical late-game play by Smith. “I’m really happy for him.
“It’s been tough for him being away from his teammates.”
Smith, who played a team-high 37 minutes, was very reflective during his postgame interview session as his locker was surrounded by a large knot of reporters and photographers. He talked about what it meant to be back on the court with his teammates and doing what he does best.
“I’ve been playing basketball for a long time, so any time that I’m not able to play is not pleasant,” Smith said. “We got a win and that’s the important thing.
“I’m happy to be back. This is what I love to do, I’ve been doing it for a very long time. Like I said, any time I’m not able to play, it’s not fun.”
It hadn’t been fun, either, for the Mavs, as the losses started stacking up. But thanks to the explosiveness Smith brought to Tuesday’s game, the Mavs were able to improve to 21-26 on the season.
“It looked like a lot faster game to me,” Carlisle said. “You’ve got to have speed in the lineup and he brought us that element tonight.”
With Smith in his element, Harrison Barnes also got back on track, scoring 20 points on 7-of-14 shots. Also, Jordan collected 13 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots, and Devin Harris contributed 13 points in 17 minutes.
And then there was Doncic, who finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists and played off the ball when he and Smith were on the court together. In addition, there were times when Doncic ran the offense while Smith was on the bench, and vice versa.
It was indeed a smooth strategy on Carlisle’s part.
“I think it benefitted both of us,” Smith said. “The way that (Carlisle) staggered us, like you said, held both of us out, playing together, coming at everybody with a one-two punch and when we could go out and do solo, and then do our thing. I think it’s effective.”
Doncic thought the same thing. When asked his thought son having Smith back, Doncic said: “He’s a great player. He can help us in a lot of ways, so we need him.”
Asked what is it that Smith gives the Mavs, Doncic said: “A lot of things. Pushing the ball and speed. He helped us out.”
The Clippers led 29-26 after the first quarter, but the Mavs managed a 58-56 lead at the half and 78-73 led after three quarters. All in all, it was a night where Smith reminded the Mavs how his speed can change the complexion of the game.
“To end the losing streak and the record of losing (on the back end of) a back-to-back, I think that’s major for us,” Smith said. “It was a real team effort all around tonight.
“The ball was moving, everybody competed defensively, we rotated for one another. If we keep these habits moving forward we’ll pick it up.”