In what coach Rick Carlisle called one of his team’s best defensive games of the season, the Mavericks came out Monday night looking rested and carrying a huge chip on their shoulder, one that had been growing for a week.
The result was a thorough 102-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies at American Airlines Center as the Mavericks pounced early, built a huge lead and never really let off the gas until the game was safely stashed away.
It was a win rooted in defense. But also in the memory of the last game the Mavericks played – way back on Valentine’s Day.
“We needed to win a game,” Carlisle said. “The Portland loss left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth. So we had to sit on that for eight days. We came out and we played an angry game, particularly defensively.”
And when a team plays that way, it’s more about the collective will than any individual contribution, which was a good thing because the Mavericks were without one of their best players when Kristaps Porzingis came down with lower-back tightness and was a late scratch for the game.
In addition, Luka Dončić didn’t have his best game as he saw his franchise record of 14 consecutive games with 25 points or more snapped (he finished with 21).
Instead, the Mavericks rode the hot hand of two key reserves as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jalen Brunson combined for 48 points.
“I guess those eight days really helped,” said Hardaway, who scored 20 of his 29 points in the first half when the Mavericks took charge of a game in which they never trailed. “We didn’t know when we were going to play. So everybody made sure they stayed locked in and took care of their bodies (during the break). And when everybody’s number was called, just make sure you go out there and play hard, play aggressive and play together.”
Said Carlisle: “Guys tonight made it about us. It wasn’t about individual stuff. At times, when it was, it got a little ugly, we were usually able to correct our way out of it.”
However, it’s worth noting that Memphis is missing several key players, most obviously Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks. Even so, the Mavericks didn’t look like a team that has been sitting around for eight days.
As Brunson said: “It didn’t feel like it, but let’s see tomorrow on a back-to-back. Let’s see. That’s going to be the real test.”
Of that, there is no doubt.
Beating Memphis pushed the Mavericks back to within a game of .500 at 14-15. They have not been at break-even or better since they were 8-8 a month ago.
They’ll have a chance to get to .500 Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics at AAC (6:30 p.m. tip) before the Mavericks start an east-bound trip to Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Orlando.
Boston was already in Dallas on Monday night, still smarting from Sunday’s visit to New Orleans, when the Celtics blew a 24-point lead and lost in overtime.
And as Brunson said, the Mavericks will have to recover quickly after manhandling Memphis. The long wait was good for helping players get some rest, some hard practice time and to get minor aches and pains some rest. But it was a long, long wait between games.
Now they play Boston less than 21 hours after finishing off Memphis.
“It was clear our guys were anxious to get on the floor and compete,” Carlisle said. “The work we put into defense this week, I thought, paid off tonight.
“It’s all about being able to sustain. Boston coming in here, second night of a back to back at home. They’re an angry team. They lost a pretty substantial lead in New Orleans, so we’ll get their best game and it’ll be a good test for us.”
Clearly rest won out over rust on Monday.
The Mavericks looked healthy (save for Porzingis) and hungry.
Hardaway, who had 20 points in the first half, when the Mavericks led by as much as 22, joined Brunson off the bench as the heavy lifters. Josh Richardson chipped in 17 points.
If you’re wondering about Dončić, he wasn’t a factor in the first half when the Mavericks led by as much as 23 points. He came alive in the third quarter, but by then the Mavericks didn’t need much from him. He finished with 21 points.
It was fair to wonder how they would respond after the wicked winter weather forced postponement of games against Detroit at AAC and at Houston. It was going to be a light playing schedule to begin with since only two games were scheduled last week.
The Grizzlies never really got cooking offensively as the Mavericks forced a lot of difficult shots that Memphis could not convert. They shot just 35.6 percent in the telltale first half and were 2-of-14 from 3-point range at that stage. They finished the game at 39.4 percent and were just 6-for-31 (19.4 percent) from 3-point range.
All in all, not a bad way to get back into the swing of things after a too-long layoff.