Maxi Kleber isn’t going to change. He’s going to go for blocked shots even if it’s a five-time all-star who is averaging 26 points this season trying to dunk on him.
And, if you didn’t know better, you’d think opponents are still underestimating the second-year Kleber’s athleticism and timing on the defensive end.
Kleber came up with two blocked shots in the final 3:45, one on high-flying Blake Griffin, the other on monster Detroit center Andre Drummond.
Those two plays, along with a 3-pointer Kleber drained right after his block on Griffin that put the Mavericks up by five points, were difference-makers in the 106-101 victory over the Pistons Friday night at American Airlines Center.
And never mind that Kleber also got dunked on wickedly by Griffin with 43 seconds left. By then, the Mavericks were up by seven points and there was nothing the Pistons could do.
That doesn’t mean Kleber was OK with getting dunked on ferociously, a play that was certain to end up on highlight reels.
“For me, it’s fun to go for blocks,” Kleber said. “I know he can jump. I always try to see where the guy’s taking off from and judge, can he dunk it or not? I didn’t want to foul because I had five already. So I kind of twisted to the side and (thought) he’s not going to make that.
“Well, he dunked it.”
At that point, it was good for a laugh among his teammates. Kleber already had made a far stronger statement on the possessions before Griffin’s dunk.
Kleber, who finished with 12 points to go with his four blocked shots, had rejected Griffin on a drive that could have tied the game going into the final three-plus minutes. On a night when Luka Doncic was awesome with 32 points, eight assists and eight rebounds and Dennis Smith Jr. had 19 points and five assists, Kleber’s contributions were absolutely vital.
“There’s a deceptiveness to how quickly he closes on shots and rim attacks,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s got a knack. He obviously has the athletic ability and length. And so, the key thing on a night like tonight is to stay on the floor against a guy like Griffin who is drawing fouls on everybody he’s looking at. But the two blocks down the stretch were big. If he doesn’t make those two blocks, it’s probably a one-point game going back and forth in those last two minutes instead of us getting a five-to-seven point cushion. He was terrific.”
Kleber is averaging 1.3 blocked shots per game. That may not sound like much, but he also averages less than 19 minutes per game.
If he played 36 minutes per game, he’d be averaging almost 2.4 blocks per game and that would place him in the top three in the league.
Another plus for Kleber off the Mavericks’ bench? He’s shooting 33.6 percent from 3-point range, which might not sound all that impressive until you find out that he’s shot 48 percent from beyond the arc since Jan. 1.
He took all seven of his shots from 3-point range against the Clippers, making four. So is he allergic to two-pointers?
“Kind of, yeah,” he joked.
Then, he added about his shot: “I relaxed a little more. I changed my shot last summer and you’re going to have ups and downs. I’m more relaxed now because I put the work in and I have to trust my shot. I can’t not shoot an open shot.”
Lately, he’s been justifying the coaching staff’s faith in his shooting.
And his defense.