They had been playing their best basketball in nearly six years, and some of the best basketball in the entire NBA lately. But the midway point of this season game didn’t go very well for the Dallas Mavericks.
RJ Barrett poured in 32 points and the New York Knicks pounded the boards relentlessly and took advantage of some poor shooting by Dallas en route to beating the Mavs, 108-85, Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. The loss snapped the Mavs’ season-high six-game winning streak as they dipped to 22-19 at the season’s midway point.
The Mavs will try and put this rough night behind them when they travel to Memphis and play the Grizzlies on Friday night. Memphis is the hottest team in the NBA and has reeled off 10 consecutive wins going into Thursday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Against the Knicks, the Mavs simply didn’t have enough power in their arsenal. Dallas got outrebounded by 54-39, shot just 41 percent from the field and only 21.6 percent (8-of-37) from behind the three-point line in a game where their offense took the night off.
The Knicks, in fact, surprisingly outscored the Mavs in each of the four quarters.
“They play really physically in general and tried to keep bodies on guys – all our guys,” acting head coach Sean Sweeney said. “They’re very good at playing with their bodies, using their hands and shrinking the floor.
“They oftentimes will play five against the ball and make it tough on anybody who has it, and tonight was no different there. Guys tried to do the right thing for the most part. It just didn’t go our way tonight.”
The only time the Mavs led was 8-7. Meanwhile, when Barrett wasn’t dropping in buckets, either Mitchell Robinson was dominant on the boards and scoring on easy opportunity dunks, or Plano native Julius Randle was having his way on the court.
New York led, 56-45 at the half, then busted the game wide open when they bolted to a 72-52 lead with 8:03 left in the third quarter after a jumper by Barrett, a dunk from Robinson, a three-point play by Randle and a triple from Barrett highlighted a 14-1 run.
From there, the Mavs didn’t get closer than 14 points the rest of the game, although they missed a few attempts to narrow the deficit to 11.
“Nothing worked today,” said Luka Doncic, who finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. “We were terrible, so that’s on me.
“It’s always disappointing when you lose, especially here, especially that way. I think we had a chance, but not much, because we were down the whole game.”
The Mavs only had six assists in the first half and looked nothing like the team that had just beaten the best team in the NBA (Golden State) and the best team in the Eastern Conference (Chicago) each by double-digits within a five-day span. It almost looked as though the Mavs were over-looking the Knicks and looking ahead to Friday’s huge Southwest Division showdown against the Grizzlies.
“First, you’ve got to give (the Knicks) credit,” said Jalen Brunson, who contributed 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists. “They’re a good defensive team — they’ve always been that way.
“They got guys who had great nights. RJ played really well, Julius did a lot tonight.”
“I think we played down to their pace a little bit,” he said. “They’re generally a slower paced team and I think we could have played a little faster, but you’ve got to give them credit.”
Randle had gotten sideways with Knicks’ fans during a game last Thursday against the Boston Celtics when he gave a thumb’s downs sign after he scored a basket. Following the game, Randle used some profanity in the postgame press conference when asked about the fans, and the NBA fined him $25,000 for the use of profanity.
But all seemed to have been forgotten on Wednesday when Randle got the crowd going by tallying seven early points – including a three-pointer – as the Knicks forged ahead, 24-14, with 3:27 remaining in the first quarter. Behind eight points from Barrett and those seven points from Randle, New York toted a 30-21 lead into the second quarter.
The Mavs couldn’t get much going offensively in the opening quarter as they finished the first 12 minutes with just seven field goals made in 20 attempts, including converting only 2-of-11 shots from beyond the three-point line. At the same juncture, the Knicks were 12-of-24 from the field and 4-of-9 from three-point range.
“It was a little bit different than the starts we had been having,” Sweeney said. “But I thought just in general the way the Knicks played, the job that their coaches did was excellent. It was just tough more than anything.
“I thought in the first half we did a pretty good job on a number of things. We got some good looks. Defensively, we did a pretty good job on both Barrett and Randle, and then in the second half their three-point shooting for the whole game and Barrett — the way he played in the second half — was tough on us.”
Robinson also was tough on the Mavs as he kept muscling his way inside for either an offensive rebound or a dunk.
“He’s a dynamic offensive rebounder,” Sweeney said. “He’s averaging over three a game and I think he had four offensive rebounds tonight. So putting a body to him or two bodies to him to try to negate his ability to get on the offensive boards is important.
“He does a great job of getting underneath the defense, then come up and use his length to get offensive rebounds, which makes it tough. He did what he does and did it at a high level tonight.”
The Knicks (21-21) grabbed 11 offensive rebounds to five for the Mavs, who also got 13 points from Tim Hardaway Jr. In addition, the Knicks outscored Dallas in the paint, 50-38, while leading by as much as 25 points in the fourth quarter.
“They beat us squarely,” Doncic said. “It’s a disappointment. We were playing really well.”
For the Mavs, head coach Jason Kidd missed his third straight game while in the health and safety protocols. Forward Kristaps Porzingis, who was drafted fourth overall by the Knicks in 2015 before they traded him to the Mavs on Jan. 31, 2019, also missed the game due to the health and safety protocols.
“We miss KP,” Sweeney said. “He’s a heckuva player. He’s been great for us. When Luka was out earlier in the year, (KP) did a great job, especially when we were in Phoenix and LA (to play the Clippers).
“Any chance we get to have him out there, we want him.”
It’s too early to know if Porzingis will be available to play against the Grizzlies. But the Mavs know they’ll have to put on a better performance than the one they put on up the street from Broadway.
Sweeney said: “Our job is to regroup, take tomorrow to work on our game, work on ourselves and then prepare for them to play as hard and as well as we can and get back on track with great effort and energy and team basketball.”