Rick Carlisle joined an exclusive club Saturday night. Even with his two best players sidelined.
Jalen Brunson poured in a season-high 27 points and Carlisle became the 13th NBA coach to win 500 games with one franchise as the Mavs ran away from the Atlanta Hawks, 123-100, before a sellout crowd of 20,328 at American Airlines Center.
With the win, the Mavs (30-19) snapped a two-game losing streak headed into Monday’s game at Indiana.
Things looked bleak early for the Mavs, who played without their top two scorers. Luka Doncic missed his second of at least six games with a sprained right ankle and Kristaps Porzingis had a scheduled rest day after the Mavs played in Houston on Friday.
Behind some terrific shooting from Kevin Huerter, the Hawks flew out to a 12-3 lead less than three minutes into the game. But the Mavs gathered themselves and got 10 points from Dorian Finney-Smith and another six from Brunson during a 22-5 run that put them ahead 23-17.
From there, points kept coming in buckets for the Mavs, who ended the first half leading 62-49 after Finney-Smith drained a long 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer.
In the second half, the Mavs poured it on as they led by as many as 29 points – 97-68 – with 2:08 remaining in the third quarter following a 3-pointer by Delon Wright.
“It’s a terrific roster, very deep, a lot of versatility, a lot of flexibility,” Carlisle said. “Obviously tonight that was very important with Luka not playing and KP out. We said before the game (the Hawks) can score in their sleep and we really have to make a stand and find a way to slow them.”
Ironically, it was the Hawks who couldn’t slow down the short-handed Mavs as Finney-Smith scored a career-high-tying 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had a season-high-tying four assists, and Maxi Kleber added 18 points.
Also for the Mavs, Seth Curry popped in 15 points and collected six rebounds before leaving late in the fourth quarter with tightness in his left knee. And Justin Jackson added 10 points and eight boards.
Hawks guard Trae Young, who like Doncic is headed to his first All-Star game, left for good in the third quarter after he fouled Finney-Smith. Young finished with just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting, and also committed four turnovers.
“Whenever I came out, I was sitting down for a while,” Young said. “It was hurting.
“I was going to keep playing on it, but then they wanted me to come back and get it looked at and it started hurting. They just wanted me sitting out.”
Meanwhile, Carlisle said this was a scheduled rest day for Porzingis, especially after the Mavs played Friday night in Houston.
“He certainly wanted to play,” Carlisle said. “He could have played, but the Phoenix game (this past Tuesday) night, after the three road games and the fourth (game) in six nights, everybody was staggering a bit.
“I didn’t like the way he was moving out there, so it just led to this decision. And it has nothing to do with any kind of disrespect for Atlanta. This is all about KP and the long-term health of him and the franchise.”
Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce was impressed with the way the Mavs had his team back on their collective heels for the balance of the night.
“A team playing on a back-to-back, second night, they played a lot of fresh guys, guys that got opportunities to play more,” Pierce said. “They were spirited and moved the basketball well. We weren’t mentally prepared to take advantage of the team and those opportunities because we’ve seen that happen to us on the other end.”
The Mavs shot 46.8 percent from the field and converted 20 of their 39 attempts from 3-point range. Brunson fired in 19 of his points in the first half, and Willie Cauley-Stein finished with seven points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots while helping the Mavs control thing in the paint.
“He’s doing well, he’s doing very well, he’s helping us a lot,” Carlisle said of Cauley-Stein. “(Friday) night he was a part of that run in the fourth quarter where we cut it to three.
“Tonight, his presence around he rim and rebounding and shot-blocking was really big at some key times. A lot of that stuff doesn’t show up (in the stat sheet) – it doesn’t show up when a guy changes a shot. But it just gives us another guy that can move his feet, that’s a legitimate lob threat who can guard small guards when we’re in switching defenses, and who wants to be here.”
Acquired in a trade with the Golden State Warriors last week, Cauley-Stein made his first start.
“It was nice to get the lungs pumping again since the trade, but definitely good to get the minutes,” he said. “We knew coming into this game we needed to win and we needed to lock in on the defensive end and really lock in on our screens.
“We did a tremendous job of scheming Trae Young and getting the ball out of his hands and making other people make plays. I think that was the biggest thing for us coming in here after losing two in a row.”
As far as joining an elite class of coaches with 500 wins with one franchise, Carlisle said:
“I was unaware until I started hearing things about it from you (media) guys recently. When you’re blessed to be part of a great organization with guys like Dirk (Nowitzki) for 11 years and then know you know we’ve got Luka and KP and Hardaway and a really good young nucleus that’s growing together, you got a chance to stay somewhere for awhile.
“But this has been a unique experience and a unique opportunity and ‘m just extremely grateful at every level.”