CHICAGO – When the Dallas Mavericks packed their bags and headed to Chicago on Sunday afternoon, they were hoping they could take that stout defensive performance they showed against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday with them.
In beating Oklahoma City, 111-96, this was the first time all season the Mavs have held an opponent under 100 points. In addition, the Thunder shot just 39.2 percent from the field and misfired on 25 of their 34 shot attempts from 3-point range.
It was one of those heady defensive performances that was worthy of the Mavs taking a bow for a job they know was well done.
“Guys were covering for each other, talking on defense,” forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. “I feel like we were a lot more talkative out there.”
Guard J. J. Barea can appreciate the extra effort and surge of energy he and his teammates brought to the court against the Thunder.
“I think we played more solid (defense),” Barea said. “We stopped with the switching and not switching or doing all of the crazy different stuff.
“We said we were going to do this and we were going to stick with that, and we were solid and I think it worked out for us.”
The Mavs (4-8) hope that same formula works out for them on Monday at 7 p.m. when they play the Chicago Bulls (4-9) at the United Center.
Not just defensively, but the Mavs were able to win the first quarter (23-22) against the Thunder and lead by as much as 24 points in the second quarter when their offense shifted into a higher gear. Slow starts had become a sore spot with the Mavs, but they stepped up and did something about it against Oklahoma City.
“We didn’t dig ourselves a hole,” Finney-Smith said. “Usually we’ve got to fight our way back in. That’s tough on a team.
“But the first group kept it close, the second group kind of picked up the energy in the second quarter and we kept pounding them in.”
The Mavs capped off their solid all-around game against the Thunder by dispensing a season-high 31 assists. When the ball got shared, the ball found its way through the basket.
“The ball wasn’t sticking,” Finney-Smith said. “It was hopping around. When the ball is hopping around like that it gives people energy.
“When guys are touching the ball they tend to play a little bit more harder. I feel like when the ball’s touching a lot of people’s hands and we’re moving, that’s harder to guard because you’re unpredictable.”
The Mavs survived a scare when rookie forward Luka Doncic went down in a heap while clutching his right knee after his knee collided with Paul George’s knee. Doncic, however, did return in the fourth quarter and finished with a game-high 22 points.
“He’s a tough kid,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I believe that he’s gone through his career playing through pain — not necessarily injury — but he’s played hurt.
“That play he came up and did something that we don’t like to see players do, which is take a high risk gamble at a pass in the backcourt against Paul George. It looks like he may have had (the ball), then all of a sudden he didn’t have it and he banged knees. But I love the way he shakes things off and gets back out there. It shows a lot of toughness. He was big after he came back into the game.”
Dallas’ bench was also big as it – led by 21 points from Barea — outscored the Oklahoma City reserves 53-22. That’s the most points the Mavs’ reserves have scored all season.
“Barea was great. He just had a brilliant game,” Carlisle said. “(He was) extremely aggressive, scored it and passed it, he was fighting on defense.
“People go after him every night because he’s smaller, but he was fighting hard and getting a lot of help. He was certainly a big tone-setter for us.”
Reserve forward Maxi Kleber set a defensive tone for the Mavs with three blocks. That includes a very impactful block at the rim against Thunder center Steven Adams.
“Games like this, coming back from the (117-102) loss (in Utah this past Wednesday) that we had, is big-time because we proved here that, first of all, we can play and we can win,” Kleber said. “And second of all, that we can handle it mentally and we don’t get in another losing streak.
“If we play hard every game, if we play like this — especially on defense — we give ourselves a better chance to stay in games.”