DENVER – That next vital step for the Dallas Mavericks — the growth and maturity that every coach and every player preaches — was on full display Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center.
With their two best players struggling offensively, the Mavs showed the value of having a deep and talented roster as they had a franchise record-tying nine players score at least 10 points and knocked off the Denver Nuggets, 109-106, before a crowd of 16,605. The win increased the Mavs’ record to 3-1 going into Friday’s home game against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Mavs superstars Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis entered Tuesday’s contest averaging 29.3 and 26.3 points, respectively. But the Nuggets held them to a combined 22 points—12 for Doncic and 10 for Porzingis – on 7-of-26 shooting.
However, that didn’t deter the Mavs, who unveiled a full-blown, balanced attack in overcoming an 11-point deficit and winning in one of the NBA’s toughest arenas for opponents.
“This is another growth game for us because on a night when our two best players weren’t having great offensive nights, the bench picked us up, and then the defense is what closed the game for us,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our second unit was really spectacular.
“They didn’t get a great start until the late first quarter and second quarter, but they stuck together and made a huge run to grab the lead, and from then on they were terrific all night. They moved it, they drove it, they were gritty on defense. This win tonight is a total team win.”
As opposed to Sunday’s loss to Portland when a late coach’s challenge reversed a crucial call that originally went the Mavs’ way, this time they were on the right side of a critical call.
Denver’s Jamal Murray made a hard drive on the left side of the basket, and Maxi Kleber was whistled for goaltending that temporarily put the Nuggets ahead, 108-107, with 1:05 remaining in the game. But all goaltending calls with under two minutes left in the game are automatically reviewed, and after the review, the officials reversed the call, leaving the Mavs with the one-point lead and the ball.
“It felt like a clean block, but sometimes as a player when you go down you think it was a block and then you can see it,” Kleber said. “So I wasn’t 100 percent sure, but I was pretty damn sure.
“It was more like, ‘Are they sure? Am I mistaken?’ “
Following that reversal, there were still a few more cliff-hanging moments. First, Doncic drove in and scored to give Dallas a 109-106 lead with 47.1 seconds to go.
Nuggets’ perennial All-Star Nikola Jokic then lost the ball on Denver’s ensuing trip up the floor. But Doncic missed a pair of free throws with 26.4 ticks left, leaving the door open for the Nuggets to potentially tie the game.
However, Murray misfired from 3-point range with 2.4 seconds left as he was closely guarded by Dorian Finney-Smith, and the Mavs merrily ran out the clock from there.
“Everybody contributed tonight,’’ said Porzingis, who was just 4-of-14 from the field, but added a game-high 14 rebounds and two blocks. “It was a team effort.
“Me and Luka, we had kind of had an off-night tonight, especially myself shooting-wise. But I’m really happy about the rest of the things I did out there on the court — passing the ball, getting my teammates involved — and I think I made a step forward defensively also tonight.”
Doncic was a bit more descriptive, saying of the lack of shot-making by himself and Porzingis: “I would just say we had a bad game. But to me it doesn’t matter if I score 0 or 40.
“It’s just that we got a win in an away game that matters.”
That in itself is very fruitful considering the Mavs only won nine road games last year, and they’re two for two on the road so far this season. Tuesday’s game was tough sledding, and not just because of the snowy conditions outside Pepsi Center. The Nuggets were the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and one of the favorites again this season.
The Nuggets showed their might early as Paul Millsap fired in 11 points, helping Denver to a 16-5 lead. But Seth Curry poured in eight of his 10 points in a first quarter that concluded with Denver holding a 31-27 lead.
Dallas trailed, 61-60, at the half and 88-83 after the third quarter before finally making its move. Five straight points from Delon Wright (12 points), a thunder dunk by Finney-Smith, and a 3-point play by Jalen Brunson (11 points, eight assists) and suddenly the Mavs were in business.
A bucket by Porzingis and a 3-pointer from Tim Hardaway Jr. (14 points) and the Mavs found themselves on the north side of a 103-94 score with 7:17 remaining in the game.
“We got hit in the mouth,” said Finney-Smith, who tallied 12 points. “We got hit first and I think we did a good job responding. We showed some resilience.”
The Mavs also got a boost from Dwight Powell, who started and played his first game since last season after recovering from a strained left hamstring. Powell was active, played all 14 of his minutes in the first half and finished with four points and four rebounds.
Powell also pointed out that the contributions from Doncic and Porzingis went way beyond the scoring column.
“I think regardless of their scoring numbers they still had a major effect on the game offensively and defensively because of their presence out there,” he said. “So that helps all of us, offensively especially.
“Luka finds a way to draw two guys and we’re ready to step into shots and ready to step into playmaking opportunities.”
As far as the 3-1 start is concerned, the Mavs didn’t win their third game last season until they played 10 games. And they didn’t win their second road game last year until they were 19 games into the season.
“It’s not just the 3-1,” said Kleber, who had 14 points, seven boards and three blocks. “It’s also getting wins on the road, because it’s not easy to win games on the road. Coach mentions it all the time.
“He tells us how tough it is, you’ve got to be a tough-minded team, you’ve got to play hard, you’ve got to come out and have an attitude. For us, it’s big-time to win two (on the road).”