With no Luka Doncic and no Kristaps Porzingis to lean on down the stretch of Thursday’s game against the Detroit Pistons, Tim Hardaway Jr. simply did what Tim Hardaway Jr. does best.
He stepped up to the challenge and got the job done.
With the Dallas Mavericks in a tough struggle against one of the NBA’s bottom feeders, Hardaway amazingly poured in 17 consecutive points during a four-plus minute stretch of the fourth quarter to help the Mavs get out of Detroit with a 115-105 victory. Afterwards, Hardaway pointed out the need to take on the task of being the go-to player when the opportunity presents itself.
And that became apparent since Doncic (left elbow contusion) missed Thursday’s game, and Porzingis left for good with 4:20 remaining in the third quarter with soreness in his right knee.
“I think most importantly, those guys, their health is the number one priority, first and foremost,” Hardaway said. “We always have this mentality of just next man up, especially with how this year has been going with Covid and people leaving and staying home because of quarantine and all that stuff.
“Just being able to have that next man mentality and going out there and performing is what you get paid to do.”
And after he scored a career-high 42 points against the Pistons, Hardaway proved he’s worth every penny the Mavs are paying him.
“This is what you’ve been working for your whole entire life,” he said. “Just knowing that Luka and KP, they weren’t playing, and Dorian Finney-Smith wasn’t playing as well, everybody knew that they had to step up.
“We don’t really harp on that because we know the work we put in, and those guys trust us to go out there and get the job done. So just being able to pull a win out like that is big for us.”
It was especially big for Hardaway considering that he played college basketball at the University of Michigan. Also, his mom, dad and some friends were in attendance for Thursday’s game, and watched him shine on the big stage for the Mavs (35-27).
“Just being able to have them witness me play in person and being able to see them and being able to talk to them, it’s awesome man,” Hardaway said. “When Pops is in the building, I don’t know what it is.
“These things just happen, so I’m happy and thankful he was here.”
Hardaway was 13-of-23 from the field against the Pistons, including 6-of-10 from beyond the 3-point arc. He was just in one of those zones where the basket undoubtedly probably looked like Lake Michigan.
“He’s back here (in Michigan), his family’s here, his mom and dad are here, so it was clear to me that he was going to play a helluva lot of minutes one way or another and we were going to need him to be productive,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “(But) 42 (points) was a little even more than even I expected, but he was our guy.
“We had to work to get him the ball. They were trying to deny him. One play late, we actually had him set a screen and that’s what got (Jalen) Brunson to the rim for a layup (that put Dallas up, 111-105 with 37.3 seconds to go). When a guy’s going like that, having him be a screener is often an effective strategy.”
It also was an effective strategy by Hardaway to coax the Pistons into fouling him on three separate occasions while he was attempting a 3-point shot. That occurred once with 55 seconds remaining in the first half, and Hardaway converted all three free throws to give the Mavs a 58-53 lead.
And it occurred twice during a 34-second span late in the fourth quarter and Hardaway promptly stepped to the line and nailed all six free throws which gave the Mavs a 104-102 lead with 2:46 left in the game.
“He manufactured two fouls on three-point shots and made all of the free throws, which is extremely difficult to go up there and make three in a row (three) times,” Carlisle said. “I think he got fouled on three 3-point attempts (Thursday), so that’s becoming a very potent weapon for him. And defensively he was busting his butt, too.”
After the Pistons took a 94-92 lead, Hardaway personally outscored Detroit, 17-11, from the 5:32 mark of the fourth quarter to the 1:04 mark of the fourth quarter as the Mavs forged ahead, 109-105. Hardaway said he felt a splendid night like this coming after he scored 13 points in only 18 minutes off the bench while making 3-of-8 shots during Tuesday’s 133-103 blowout victory over the Golden State Warriors.
“I didn’t play that much, though (against the Warriors), and I didn’t really get that much shot attempts,” he said. “But the shots that I did make and the shots that I did attempt, they all felt great.
“Coming into (the game against Detroit) I kind of tried to just roll with the punches and keep that same energy and keep that same mindset. And my teammates did a phenomenal job of just getting me open and helping me out.”
Hardaway has played in a team-high 61 of the Mavs’ 62 games this year and will take a 16 points per game average into Saturday’s contest at American Airlines Center against the Washington Wizards.
“He’s been our iron man all year,” Carlisle said. “I keep talking to him about getting him a game off at some point.
“(Thursday) wasn’t going to be the night because he was back home in Michigan, but at some point here hopefully. He’s certainly earned it.”
So now that he’s broken the 40-point barrier for the first time in his career, Hardaway said he gets back “to the gym” for an encore.
“I just haven’t been able to be as productive like I know I’m capable of these last couple of games,” he said. “The only thing I know as a basketball player mentally and physically is get your butt in the gym and get some shots up and keep on working.”
And that work paid off against the Pistons.
Hardaway said: “Just being back where I went to school and just being able to play in front of my family and a couple of my friends, I didn’t want to leave out of here with an L.”