DALLAS – Too many times this season slow starts and inept play on defense were at the root of a loss by the Dallas Mavericks.
But before a sellout crowd of 19,818 Saturday night at American Airlines Center, the Mavs found a way to flip the script.
Luka Doncic shook of a mild scare and J. J. Barea led the red-hot bench brigade as the Mavs played one of the best games of the season en route to tripping the Oklahoma City Thunder, 111-96. The win increased the Mavs’ record to 4-8 heading into Monday’s game in Chicago.
This was not an ordinary win by the Mavs. The Thunder entered the game with the NBA’s longest winning streak at seven in a row and were packing a ton of confidence.
However, the Mavs rolled up their sleeves and showed some of the defensive strength that limited the Thunder to 39.2 percent shooting from the field. OKC also missed 25 of its 34 shots from 3-point land.
“We started out the game playing extremely hard,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Guys were really fighting their butts off.
“The (12-0 OKC) run to end the half was disappointing, but at halftime we said, ‘Hey, we still won the quarter by 11 and we got to concentrate on getting out of the locker room and picking it back up,’ and they did.”
That run by the Thunder trimmed the Mavs’ 57-33 lead to 57-45 at the half. But a 3-pointer by Wesley Matthews had the Mavs back up by 16 late in the third quarter. . .before near-disaster struck.
Rookie forward Luka Doncic inadvertently bumped knees with OKC forward Paul George and fell to the floor and clutching his right knee while writhing in pain. However, Doncic did return to the game in the fourth quarter and made a couple of key baskets while finishing the night with a game-high 22 points to go with six rebounds and eight assists.
“You never want to see one of your guys go down,” Carlisle said. “It’s very scary.”
Wearing their new City Edition jerseys for the first time, the Mavs sprinted out to a 23-22 lead after the first quarter, thanks largely to Barea. By the end of the first quarter Barea was 4-of-5 from the field with 11 points and his teammates were 3-of-13 from the field with 12 points.
In addition, during one stretch bridging the first and second quarters, Barea tallied 14 of the Mavs’ 19 points, which was the impetus they used to sprint out to that huge lead over the Thunder.
“I got in rhythm and I was feeling good, and I got in rhythm early,” said Barea, who tallied a season-high 21 points. “I was telling the guys on the bench we got to come in with a lot of energy, and shots were going in and everybody fed off of that and we kept it going.”
The Mavs’ reserves outscored their OKC counterparts by a whopping 53-22 margin. Meanwhile, the Mavs shot 55.8 percent from the field, made 14-of-29 baskets from beyond the 3-point arc, and also distributed 31 assists.
For a change, it was a crisp offensive and defensive performance all rolled into one solid outing by the Mavs.
“We were all playing solid defense and I think everybody was paying attention to what they were doing on defense,” Barea said. “And we made them take some tough shots and it worked out for us.”
Devin Harris played for the first time since straining his left hamstring on opening day against Phoenix. And Maxi Kleber certainly made his presence felt at the defensive end with three blocked shots. That includes blocking a shot by OKC center Steve Adams right at the rim.
“I’m trying to go for every block and if I see I can go there I should help, even if it’s sometimes the wrong decision and I’m too late,” Kleber said. “But if I call myself a defender and rim protector, then I have to go for it and I will keep doing it.”
The Mavs just hope they can keep doing to their upcoming opponents what they did to the Thunder. Especially on the defensive end of the floor.
NOTES: One of the things that bugs coach Rick Carlisle are the inordinate amount of turnovers his team has committed this year. Especially those unforced turnovers. “I don’t know the percentage of unforced errors, but it’s much higher than usual,” Carlisle said. “But to try and get into an explanation for it would be to make excuses. We just got to take care of the ball. We got to pass it, catch it, we got to throw it places where it has a legitimate destination. And we just frankly has to be better.” The Mavs were second in the NBA last year in the fewest turnovers committed with 11.8 per game. Carlisle said not having forward Dirk Nowitzki (left ankle surgery) has had mitigating circumstances for his team. “I can get into a lot of things about how when Dirk’s not playing the game changes a lot, and it’s so much harder because teams can take more liberties than they would normally take,” Carlisle said. “I feel it’s worth mentioning just because so many of us don’t have a realization for how great Dirk is. And when you miss a guy like him in your lineup — even if he’s going to be off the bench or whatever — there’s an element that is missing. But I’m not making excuses. The guys that are available, we’ve got to coach them to be better at ball security. There are challenges.”. .Carlisle was asked when does he expect to see Dirk Nowitzki playing in a game this season. “I’d be thrill if he played in November,” Carlisle said. “I don’t have a timetable. I just see him out there moving around a little better each day, which is very encouraging.”. .Mavs guard J. J. Barea and Oklahoma City guard Raymond Felton were both born on June 26, 1984.