Justin Anderson and Salah Mejri did in Game 2 what hasn’t been done by any Maverick for a long, long time.

Anderson became the first Mavs rookie to record both a block and a steal in the same playoff game since Devin Harris did so in 2005, according to Basketball-Reference. Even better, his block was of the game-saving variety, as he rejected Kevin Durant at the rim with just seconds left to protect an 85-84 Mavericks lead. Dallas would win the game after one follow-up attempt missed and the other came after the buzzer.

Mejri, meanwhile, is one of just two rookies in franchise history to score at least 10 points and block at least three shots off the bench in a postseason game, joining Roy Tarpley (1987). Remove the rookie criterion and that list is still exclusive — according to Basketball-Reference, the only other two players in franchise history with 10 and three off the bench in the playoffs are Brendan Haywood (2010) and Detlef Schrempf (1988).

We’ve known for some time that both rookies are capable of positively impacting a game on any given night, but what Anderson and Mejri did in Game 2 was pretty special, even by their standards. OKC shot only 26.9 percent from the floor in Mejri’s 28 minutes of playing time, while Anderson’s game-saving block and thunderous put-back finish following a missed free throw in the first half stand out as two of the most jaw-dropping plays of the game.

Play of the Day: Justin Anderson

Justin Anderson comes flying in to clean up the glass with a monster slam.

That’s not even counting a sequence in which Mejri caught a pass on the roll, essentially one-timing it to Anderson in the process. The younger rookie then drove to the rim before throwing a behind-the-back to his teammate for a lay-in.

[wp_hyena imageurl=’https://www.mavs.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Anderson-btb.gif’ data_hyena='{“slate”:”300,0.10,15″,”player_fade_speed”:”500″,”control_opacity”:”0,0.9″,”fade_speed”:”250,250″,”style”:2}’]

While Rick Carlisle might not have enjoyed Anderson’s flashy pass as much as we did, the rookie himself certainly reveled in the moment. “Yeah, that was cold,” he laughed after the game. “When J.J. (Barea) told me it was sweet, then I got a little excited.”

Mejri, meanwhile, is just so active on the defensive end. He contested a game-high 16 shots in Game 2, according to NBA.com’s new hustle stats. (Mejri, Wesley Matthews, Raymond Felton, and Zaza Pachulia all contested more shots than any Thunder player did.) Watch in the play below how Mejri contests Russell Westbrook’s pull-up jumper before scrambling back to the rim in time to block Enes Kanter’s put-back. It’s a play which requires discipline, athleticism, anticipation, and verticality to contest cleanly without fouling.

[wp_hyena imageurl=’https://www.mavs.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Mejri-activity.gif’ data_hyena='{“slate”:”300,0.10,15″,”player_fade_speed”:”500″,”control_opacity”:”0,0.9″,”fade_speed”:”250,250″,”style”:2}’]

The young players on this team have made a huge impact on this team down the stretch of the regular season. Whether it was Anderson and Dwight Powell shining in a Denver win on March 28 or Mejri taking over in a win against the Blazers a week prior, it turns out the young guys have had plenty to offer despite their lack of playoff basketball experience. (Mejri has played in playoff and elimination games in both domestic games overseas and in international play, but never at the NBA level, of course.)

Those contributions are important not only to the team, but also to the head coach. Carlisle admitted before Game 2 that he shouldn’t have started Mejri in Game 1, as it was an unfair situation for the rookie big man. Meanwhile, Anderson didn’t receive major minutes in the opener for generally the same reasons. Both players, however, stood out in Game 2, and that’s the best way to earn Carlisle’s trust moving forward. Anderson joked late in the season that he wasn’t a starter — that he was only starting — but if he can continue playing at this level, it’s not out of the question to speculate he could shed that qualifier as early as next season.

That’s looking quite far ahead, of course. The Mavericks are only focused on Thursday’s Game 3. A win tomorrow would put the underdog Mavs up 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, with Game 4 coming Saturday night. Between the momentum the team established and what’s sure to be a rowdy AAC crowd, Dallas has to be feeling good about itself, but there’s still work to do.

“We’re confident. But at the same time, we’re still hungry,” Anderson said. “Obviously there’s a lot of emotion in this series. (The Thunder) are gonna come back and they’re gonna be aggressive. We’re gonna be aggressive at home.

“I’m sure it’s gonna be electric in there, and I know we’re going to show up hungry, ready to play again.”

Share and comment

More Mavs News