As they took the court Thursday night, the Dallas Mavericks were out to convince everyone that the disastrous loss at Houston on Wednesday was a complete aberration.
One night after losing to one of the worst team in the NBA, the Mavs buckled their seat belts and went out and muscled their way to a victory over one of the best in the NBA with a hard-fought 116-101 triumph over the Milwaukee Bucks at American Airlines Center.
Heroes were plentiful for the Mavs as Luka Doncic finished with 27 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and Kristaps Porzingis scored 11 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter on 4-of-4 shots after not being able to get up any shots in the fourth quarter of that disappointing loss to the Rockets.
Overall, the Mavs, after trailing following each of the first three quarters, buckled down and outscored the Bucks, 36-17, in the fourth to put away a game that had an extreme physical overtone to it. When the game was still hanging in the balance, the Bucks shot just 5-of-25 from the field in the fourth quarter as they wilted under the intense pressure of the Mavs’ solid defense.
“It was a very competitive game, a combative game — a lot of emotional things going on out there,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But I thought the number one overall positive in the game was how we held our poise after the run that Milwaukee made at the end of the third quarter.
“We’re proud as a team. Great bounce back after the disappointment of (Wednesday) night.”
Porzingis, who also grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked two shots, came off the bench early in the fourth quarter and went on a personal 8-0 run that got the Mavs ahead, 97-93. A 3-pointer by Porzingis and a pair of baskets from Josh Richardson eventually pushed the Mavs up, 107-97, with 3:02 remaining.
Dorian Finney-Smith then added a 3-pointer off a feed from Porzingis which increased the Mavs’ lead to 110-97 with 2:16 left. All of this came after the Bucks scored the final 12 points of the third quarter and the first two of the fourth quarter to bolt ahead, 86-81.
“It felt good to just come in right away and hit that pump-fake three,” said Porzingis, who was 10-of-20 from the field and 4-of-7 from 3-point range. “After you hit a ball like that you feel good and you’re feeling like you’re in a good rhythm, and I got a couple more and that was it. We made a good run and were able to seal the game.”
The win was the eighth in the last 11 games for the Mavs — they were 7-of-11 from downtown in the fourth quarter — as they increased their record to 29-12. The Bucks, who were outrebounded 17-10 in the fourth quarter, dipped to 32-19 on the season.
A critical play in the game occurred when Khris Middleton drove to the hole and a fouled was called on Finney-Smith with the Mavs up 105-97. Carlisle challenged the play, and it was overturned and ruled that Finney-Smith had executed a clean block on Middleton with 3:37 remaining in the game.
After that, Richardson scored on a drive, Finney-Smith buried a 3-pointer off a feed from Porzingis, Richardson negotiated a three-point play, and Maxi Kleber banked in a long 3-ppinter with the 24-seocnd shot clock about to expire as the Mavs’ lead ballooned to 116-100.
“A lot of guys hit big shots,” Carlisle said. “KP hit a few, Luka hit a few, Richardson hit a couple, Finney-Smith had a huge three from the corner, Kleber had a three in the left corner.
“This was a playoff-type game, a playoff-caliber game in terms of intensity and competitiveness and the talent on the floor. We just did a much, much better job from top to bottom than we did (Wednesday) night.”
The Mavs held the Bucks – they played without Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has a sore left knee – to just 38 percent shooting. And Finney-Smith earned the Defensive Player of the Game belt after he held Middleton to just 14 points on 6-of-27 shooting.
“Finney-Smith did a great job on Middleton, whose a great player,” Carlisle said. “The block that he had that ended up being a foul called which was reversed put that (Defensive Player of the Game) decision over the top. He was tremendous.
“Look, a guy like Middleton still is going to get shots. But Dorian really made him work.”
Carlisle also lauded the defensive work of Richardson, who limited Jrue Holiday to just 13 points on 6-0f-16 shots. All in all, the Mavs simply weren’t going to be denied after that unfortunate meltdown in Houston.
“I think it was, like you said, our resiliency,” said Richardson, who contributed 14 points, five rebounds and two steals. “And we’ve got guys on our team who understand it’s a long game.
“Guys are coming into the huddle frustrated understandably, but we kind of regrouped (after the third quarter) and said it’s 12 minutes (remaining). It’s a 12-minute street fight that we’ve got to make this right now.”
Milwaukee led 31-29 after the first quarter and 56-55 at the half, and got 22 points from Donte DiVincenzo and 20 points and 14 rebounds from Bobby Portis. But the Mavs, who also collected 12 points and five boards from Kleber and 12 points from Tim Hardaway Jr, showed a lot of grit and determination on a night when they shot 44.3 percent from the field and outrebounded Milwaukee, 56-52.
“Things could have gone completely south,” Carlisle said. “But the guys got together and stuck together and just really executed in the fourth.”
Carlisle said earlier Thursday he talked with Porzingis about ways to get him the ball in the fourth quarter. That talk obviously paid off, although Carlisle didn’t take credit for it.
“This was the guys on the floor making the reads and making the plays,” he said. “We called a few plays throughout the game.
“This team is a hard team to call plays against. They scout well and they have very physical defenders, so you have to play at more of a random dimension. I just thought our overall team balance was just better tonight. Credit the players. They did a good job of creating a lot of situations so that there was some real symmetry in the fourth quarter.”
Much more symmetry than the Mavs showed against the Rockets.
“Overall down the stretch of the game we did not let up,” Carlisle said. “I’m just really pleased for our guys.
“A terrific week so far in winning against Utah (on Monday) and Milwaukee. It takes some of the sting out of the loss (Wednesday) night.”