OKLAHOMA CITY — Riding a three-game winning streak for the first time this season, the Dallas Mavericks looked to carry over their momentum Sunday evening before welcoming in a new year.
Mavs vs. Thunder
“Well, close games are what this league is all about, and we’ve got enough experience to where we don’t get too high or too low,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after the win. “We’re playing better, and we’re doing better in these situations. Guys just hung together and found a way to close it out, and it’s not easy with those three superstars that they’ve got. But we did it as a team with stops, made some big plays, and it will be a happy new year.”
Hoping to continue clicking on all cylinders after Friday’s 128-120 win in New Orleans, the Mavericks tried to end a trend against the Thunder after both teams won on their home floors earlier in the season series back in November. But after an 8-2 start to the game for the Thunder, Carlisle was forced into a timeout to settle his team down with 10:18 left in the opening quarter.
Mavs leading scorer Harrison Barnes then tried to ignite his team, scoring Dallas’ first five points of the night. Rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. also picked up where he left off at after recording his first career triple-double Friday night, driving the lane for a three-point play to bring the Mavericks within three, 11-8. Smith’s three-pointer near the top of the key then tied the game at 17-all. A triple from reserve guard J.J. Barea followed as the Mavs assumed a 26-25 lead with 2:41 left in the period. And with Barnes’ 10 points in the quarter leading the way, the Mavericks took a 35-32 edge into the second stanza.
After 14-of-21 shooting in the first quarter, the Mavs tried to carry over the offensive success to the second period. An alley-oop connection between Barea and backup big man Dwight Powell would start the quarter in the right way for the Mavericks. Barea then found 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki with a bullet pass in the lane, putting the Mavs up 39-36 in the process. And after the undersized guard’s three-pointer from the wing, the Mavericks held a six-point advantage at 42-36 with 9:07 left in the first half.
However, the Thunder charged back behind the offensive attack of perennial All-Star forward Paul George. A thunderous reverse slam by Tunisian big man Salah Mejri kept the momentum in favor of the Mavs. But after a three-pointer by Thunder newcomer Carmelo Anthony put the home team up 48-46 with 4:16 left in the half, the two teams exchanged haymakers before Oklahoma City took a 63-57 margin into the intermission.
Led by George’s 19 first-half points on 5-of-10 shooting, the Thunder outshot the Mavericks through two quarters, 51.1 percent to 50 percent. The Thunder also held a 23-17 rebounding edge and 9-0 advantage in fast-break points, overshadowing Dallas’ 24-18 scoring margin in the paint.
“They were really hot early in the first half. You know, when all three have it going at the same time with (Russell) Westbrook, George and Anthony, that’s a tough way to win. But I think we found a way to kind of stick around in the first half,” Nowitzki explained. “We talked about it at halftime, and we were still in a good position. We didn’t guard well, they were shooting the ball well, but we were only down a few points. And that’s the position you want to be in on the road. We kind of stuck around and stole it at the end.”
Starting the third period with German big man Maxi Kleber’s put-back score inside, the Mavericks tried to stage a rally in the second half. Kleber continued to contribute a short time later, turning Smith’s drop-off pass into an emphatic three-point play. Smith’s lob pass to Kleber above the rim then brought the Mavs within two at 70-68.
Barnes took matters from there while briefly bringing the Mavericks within one. The Thunder countered with an aggressive Westbrook at the other end. But after veteran reserve Devin Harris’ pair of three-pointers put the Mavs up 80-77, Westbrook’s late feed to Terrance Ferguson sent the Thunder into the fourth with an 85-84 edge.
After a technical foul on second-year standout Yogi Ferrell opened the final period, former Mav Raymond Felton’s three-pointer extended the Thunder’s lead to five. Nowitzki then tried to will the Mavericks back into the game, scoring five straight points to tie the game once again at 89-all. Nowitzki didn’t stop there, swishing a jumper to put the Mavs on top while capping his 7-0 personal run. But after back-to-back scores by Westbrook, Carlisle was forced into a timeout with his team down 93-91 and 7:42 left to play.
The Dallas deficit sat at three when Barea went back to work with a jumper to keep the Mavs within an arm’s reach. Barea again struck with a timely fadeaway jumper to briefly put the Mavs ahead. And after Barnes answered Westbrook at the other end with a three-pointer from the corner, the Mavericks surged to a 100-98 lead.
Smith stepped back into the scoring after Westbrook tied the game once more, swishing two free throws to put the Mavs up 102-100 with 3:27 on the game clock. Westbrook answered once more with a mid-range jumper to tie the game and force Carlisle into a timeout with 3:14 remaining. The perennial All-Star struck again to put the Thunder up two, but Mavs swingman Wesley Matthews quickly responded with a three-pointer. Smith’s back-to-back triples then sandwiched a score inside by Thunder forward Jerami Grant, putting the Mavericks up 111-108.
“Really with that it was just I saw an open shot, and I took it. And I was like, ‘The next one, I’m going to take that as well.’” Smith would later say. “They started falling, and around the 5:00 mark I just realized it was time for me to get it going.”
Anthony’s two free throws with 37.9 seconds left cut the Dallas lead to one from there. Not to be outdone, Smith penetrated the lane for a score in traffic to extend the Dallas lead to three with 30.4 ticks remaining. Matthews then forced a miss by Westbrook from beyond the three-point arc, leading to Smith’s two free throws with 15.8 seconds remaining as the Mavs went up five. Still, the lead wasn’t safe after Powell was called for fouling George on a three-point attempt and the sequence 3-for-3 trip to the free-throw line with 12.7 ticks left cut the margin to two. A 1-of-2 trip to the foul line by Smith extended the lead to three with 11.8 seconds left. And after the Dallas defense forced two misses from Westbrook from behind the three-point line, the Mavericks secured the win in the final moments.
Scoring 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 4 of 6 from three, Barnes led the Mavericks to the win. Smith added 19 points (the team’s final 11 to end the game), five rebounds and six assists in the first unit. Meanwhile, Nowitzki scored 13 points, and Barea filled up the stat sheet with 12 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists.
“[Smith] was great tonight. He finished the game with a couple of big baskets and some big free throws. Look, it was an up-and-down night. There were a lot of pick-and-rolls, and they were trapping him. He hasn’t seen that. He went through some situations, but he kept his energy up, he kept his head up and he kept attacking. He kept encouraging everybody in the huddles during timeouts, too, so it was just so much growth. I’m really happy for him, and we had a lot of other guys play well,” Carlisle said after the win.
Westbrook led five Thunder scorers in double figures with 38 points on 17-of-28 shooting, grabbing 15 rebounds and dishing 11 assists for a triple-double. The Mavericks outshot the Thunder for the game, however, 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent, overcoming a 45-36 rebounding disadvantage by forcing 11 Oklahoma City turnovers compared to their eight giveaways.
“It’s all about just trusting each other at the end of games,” Smith concluded. “We’ve got a team that we like each other outside of basketball, so it’s not hard to do. It’s just been taking some time, but I think we’ve figured it out, though.”
Note: The Mavericks will now return to their home floor on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Golden State leads the season series 2-0. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.
Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee quadriceps tendinitis) — out
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Josh McRoberts (lower extremity injury) — out
Nerlens Noel (left thumb surgery) — out