A couple of months from now, when they’re in the home stretch of possibly preparing for the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks will likely look back on what transpired Saturday night at Ball Arena as a turning point of sorts.
That’s because the Mavs were down 10-0 to Denver, and had absolutely no snap, crackle or pop. And a snow storm was brewing outside the arena. But following a timeout, the Mavs regrouped, put on their rally caps and stormed back to capture a hard-fought 116-103 victory over the red-hot Nuggets.
The victory was impressive in that the Nuggets entered the game on a five-game winning streak and was one of the hottest teams in the NBA. But after the opening few minutes, the Mavs (20-17) rolled up their sleeves and went to work and wound up getting out of town with their 11th victory in their last 14 games.
“After a very poor start, going down 10-0, we really gathered ourselves well,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We finished the first quarter strong.
“The second quarter was much, much better, and we were able to create more distance and we did a lot of good things. Overall, you take away the first three minutes of the game and it was a very good effort.”
Heroes were plentiful on this night for the Mavs, starting with Kristaps Porzingis, who collected 25 points, six rebounds and three blocks and was chosen by Carlisle as the team’s Defensive Player of the game and the recipient of the coveted belt.
“KP got the defensive belt tonight really because of three or four very timely plays,” Carlisle said. “A couple of block shots, a couple of times he switched out onto (Jamal) Murray and (Michael) Porter (Jr.) and prevented those guys from getting threes in critical situations.
“And he was a presence at the rim all night. Not to mention the fact that he was terrific on offense.”
Also terrific on offense for the Mavs were Luka Doncic (21 points, five rebounds, 12 assists), Josh Richardson (20 points), Jalen Brunson (12 points) and Dorian Finney-Smith (11 points, eight boards). Even Dwight came off the bench and flexed his muscles while racking up six points and pulling down a season-high 10 rebounds in just 18 minutes.
“We did a great job on offense and on defense,” Doncic said. “We had kind of a rough start, but we picked it up and I think we played great basketball the whole game.”
Denver led 29-28 after the first quarter, but the Mavs picked things up and maneuvered their way to a 62-51 lead at halftime. From there, Brunson fed Porzingis for a 3-pointer, then tossed in his own 3-pointer and followed that up with another basket and suddenly the Mavs had blown the doors off the arena and compiled an 87-67 lead with 3:40 left in the third quarter.
“We had some moments we had some lapses that we can get better,” said Porzingis, who was 10-of-15 from the field, including 5-of-7 from 3-point territory. “But overall we had a good game on both ends of the floor thanks to our offense.”
A dunk by Tim Hardaway Jr. opened up a 97-76 lead for the Mavs early in the fourth quarter. And the win, following that difficult start, just showed the Mavs how dangerous they can be once they put their minds to it.
In digging themselves out of that 10-0 hole, Richardson said: “That should give us confidence going forward that we can come back in games when it’s not going our way. I’m proud of how everybody kind of, in that first timeout, nobody was yelling, nobody was freaking out.
“We just sat down and came together, and it was like, ‘What are we doing?’ We were professionals about it, so I’m proud of us.”
Richardson was 6-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-5 from downtown. But he also was having ugly memories of the Mavs’ last visit to the Mile High City back on Jan. 7 when he had to remain in a Denver hotel for nearly two weeks after contracting the coronavirus.
“I’m not going to lie,” Richardson said. “When we were on our way I was definitely like, ‘I do not want to go back to that hotel.’ “
All hotels notwithstanding, Carlisle is appreciative of the way Richardson has gotten his strength back since the COVID-19 issue, and added: “Nobody’s talking about it, but Josh Richardson has really stepped up in the last two weeks.”
Richardson pointed out that the 26 assists the Mavs accumulated against Denver is the culmination of the players finally being on-point with one another.
“I think we’re starting to figure out how to play for each other,” Richardson said. “We have so much talent on our roster.
“Those plays where it’s one more pass and two more passes, that’s some good basketball.”
While the Mavs were shining in one of the NBA’s most difficult arenas for opponents to play in, the Nuggets (21-16) got 26 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists from Nikola Jokic, and 23 points apiece from Will Barton and Porter. However, Murray scored just 10 points on 4-of-13 field goal attempts one night after scoring just three points on 1-of-14 shots during a 103-102 victory at Memphis.
Carlisle admitted the Mavs “were stagnant and a bit lethargic” out of the gate. But they recovered nicely, and next will play two homes games on Monday and Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Look, we caught a break tonight with Denver on a back-to-back,” Carlisle said. “Not an easy back-to-back going from Memphis to (Denver).
“But we’re playing in the most difficult venue there is to play when you factor in the altitude.”
And after factoring everything into the equation, the Mavs wound up acquitting themselves very well.