If there were doubters, Kristaps Porzingis didn’t waste any time silencing them on Tuesday night.
Busting out of the gate looking very focused and determined, Porzingis scored 13 straight points during a five-minute stretch in the first quarter and the Mavs went on to win a nip-and-tuck scrimmage against the Philadelphia 76ers, 118-115, in overtime at HP Field House under the NBA bubble in Florida. The victory helped the Mavs end scrimmage play with a 2-1 record.
Next up for the Mavs are the real games as they restart the 2019-20 season on Friday night at 7 with a pivotal contest against the Houston Rockets.
Porzingis entered the game against the Sixers following a subpar eight-point, five-foul showing against the Los Angeles Lakers last Thursday. Then he mistakenly missed the NBA’s mandatory coronavirus test on Saturday, forcing him to enter a 24-hour quarantine and sit out Sunday’s game against the Indiana Pacers.
Against that backdrop, Porzingis came out and made the Sixers pay dearly as he completely took over the game’s early moments. The five-year veteran personally outscored the Sixers, 13-3, while playing with the kind of confidence that earned him an All-Star berth in 2018 while with the New York Knicks.
“I wanted to come out aggressive and play with energy and give the team the energy, and that was it,” said Porzingis, who finished the night with 17 points and 12 boards. “Just keep it simple and play my game. And those things are going to happen.”
Because those things happened, the Mavs led 24-13 after the first quarter. With Porzingis netting a double-double – 14 points, 10 rebounds – in the first half, the Mavs were nursing a 48-39 lead at intermission.
“He had a real nice run during that stretch,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Porzingis’ first-quarter surge. “Look, I like the way he’s moving. You know, 17 and 12 is great.
“People don’t talk enough about his defense and what he does at that end of the floor protecting the rim and rebounding. He’s a great outlet passer.”
Despite the solid showing by the Mavs in the first half, they got outscored 41-26 in the third quarter and fell behind by 10 points in the fourth quarter before reserves J.J. Barea, Antonius Cleveland and Josh Reaves came off the bench and ignited a rally that ended scrimmage play for Dallas on a positive note. It was a 3-pointer by Barea that gave the Mavs a 116-113 lead with 1:06 remaining in overtime.
“I thought Cleveland and Reaves both played very, very well,” Carlisle said. “Reaves came off the game the other night (against Indiana) where he didn’t play well. He was a factor at both ends (Tuesday), he finished plays, he hit a big three.
“The group that finished the game did a great job finishing it off and finding a way to get the win.”
Carlisle was concerned about the third quarter when the Sixers dominated play and grabbed control of the game.
“The last couple of games we haven’t done a good job,” he said in summing up his team’s play in the third quarter. “Teams have come out and roughed up us.
“A lot of positives. Again, the negative was coming out of the locker room (in the third quarter). We struggled and Philly picked it up on us, so we’ve got to do better than that.”
Luka Doncic led the Mavs with 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists, Barea and Cleveland poured in 14 points each, and Tim Hardaway Jr. added 10 points and five boards. Carlisle also lauded the play of guard Trey Burke, who finished with nine points and three assists in 22 minutes.
“I really like Burke,” Carlisle said. “He’s a guy who just started practicing three days ago and he came in the game and he’s a factor.
“He puts pressure on the defense. Defensively he’s picked it up, he’s giving us full-court pressure and he’s causing problems out there, so he’s a guy that’s going to be able to help us.”
It was the pressure that Porzingis applied that most Mavs’ fans wanted to see and were delighted with the results.
“I think for a basketball player you have to play instinctively,” Porzingis said. “Whatever the situation you just make the decisions in a split second and go with it and do it with 100 percent confidence.
“I put in the work and I have the skills and the confidence to just go out there and play free.”
Now it’s on to Friday’s showdown against the Rockets (40-24), who are in sixth place in the Western Conference standings and just a game-and-a-half ahead of the seven-seeded Mavs (40-27).
“We’re a talented team,” Porzingis said. “I think for us there’s a few learning lessons that we can take from this scrimmage also, and now it’s time for the real deal for the regular season games and then the playoffs. So our excitement level is going to go a few levels up now.
“I think we’re ready to go.”