MILWAUKEE – If you were wondering if the Mavericks could ever find a way to make up for one of those regrettable losses to New York earlier this season, this game was for you.
No Luka Doncic. A red-hot Milwaukee team. A hostile environment. That’s the dreaded trifecta that was conspiring against the Mavericks Monday night.
And they overcame all of it.
The Mavericks pulled off a remarkable upset behind a roster-full of potent contributors for a 120-116 victory over the Bucks, who had not lost since Nov. 8. Their 18-game winning streak went up in the flames that were created by Kristaps Porzingis, Seth Curry, Jalen Brunson and basically everybody else wearing a Mavericks’ jersey.
“The NBA is crazy,” said Porzingis, who was a monster with 26 points, 12 rebounds and back-to-back clinching 3-pointers from Illinois late in the game. “Anybody can beat anybody, basically. We have high goals for ourselves. That’s one of the best teams in the league right there. We just played hard and were able to get the win.”
They did so with Doncic sitting back in Dallas, recovering from a sprained ankle. But without their MVP candidate, and in spite of 48 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Mavericks pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season. They jumped on the Bucks early and led by as many as 16 points in the first half.
The Mavericks led by double figures for virtually all of the second half until the Bucks began fouling and made things marginally interesting at the end.
“An 18-game winning streak is a spectacular demonstration of how good a team is,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But you’re not going to win every game to finish the season. We just felt that if we came out and really concentrated on ourselves and stuck to a pretty simple game plan, we’d give ourselves a chance.
“The credit goes to our guys. They did a great job of digging in. I’m real proud of them.”
The Mavericks now have road wins against the Lakers, Rockets, Nuggets and Bucks – four teams with legitimate championship aspirations.
The Mavericks also are 10-2 on the road, having won their last six away from American Airlines Center.
Doing it without Doncic proves that this team can collectively hit the curve ball. The Bucks did not have their best night. But the Mavericks were the aggressor from start to finish and didn’t wilt when things got sticky at the end.
“We knew they were going to make a rush at it,” Carlisle said of the frantic finish. “Everybody kept their poise and got the win. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Mavericks were up 99-92 with under seven minutes to play when Porzingis pulled up for a 30-footer. After Milwaukee misfired, Porzingis reared up from a step farther out and again nailed the shot to make it a 13-point lead.
“Sometimes I get that feeling where, ah, I got to let it fly,” Porzingis said. “The second one, I didn’t even think about. As soon as I got it, boom.”
Porzingis did a fabulous job of taking over the lead scoring role. But he had lots of help. Curry blitzed the Bucks with his 3-point shooting and matched Porzingis’ 26 points.
Jalen Brunson was the primary ballhandler and had 13 points to go with 11 assists.
And then there was Dorian Finney-Smith.
While Antetokounmpo had a massive statistical game, his sidekick, Khris Middleton, did not. Finney-Smith essentially shadowed Middleton everywhere and did a great job of slowing down the 18-point scorer.
“We pulled a great win off in a hostile environment,” said Finney-Smith, who had 15 points and eight rebounds in addition to his defense. “We go out there expecting to win. We felt like we lost that game against the Heat (on Saturday) ourselves. We felt like we should have pulled that one off without Luka. For us, we feel like we can win any game out there if we hit first. We knew they were a good first-quarter team.”
Said Carlisle of Finney-Smith: “We tried to keep Dorian on him (Middleton) as much as we could, subbed him basically to match his minutes.
“But they didn’t have a great shooting night. I thought we had something to do with it. But to come in here and win a game like this, you have to have a little bit of luck, too. They missed some shots they might normally make, but our guys were on point. They were really into it.”
While it would have been great to see Doncic and Antetokounmpo go at it, this turned out to be more about the Mavericks as a team than anything else. If the rest of the NBA needed proof that the Mavericks are more than just Doncic’s greatness, this was Exhibit A.
And, at 18-8, the Mavericks may have just gotten an equalizer for one of those terrible losses against the woeful Knicks.
As Maxi Kleber said: “It doesn’t work that way.