What happened Thursday night at Ball Arena was the type of game the Dallas Mavericks consistently lost last season. But it’s a new day, a new season, and the Mavs showed they know how to grind out a victory.
With Luka Doncic, Maxi Kleber and Josh Richardson firing in one clutch basketball after another, the Mavs rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit to defeat the Denver Nuggets in overtime, 124-117. The win pushed the Mavs’ record to 4-4 going into Saturday night’s home game against the Orlando Magic. It’s the first time they’ve won consecutive games this season.
The Mavs started very sluggish and at one point had more turnovers (nine) than made field goals (eight). But when the shots starting falling, and with Doncic commandeering the ship, the Mavs were able to finish the night with an impressive road win against one of the NBA’s best teams.
“Obviously this is a great win for us – much needed,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “After a not very great first quarter and certainly a poor ending to the first quarter, we hung in, we hung around.
“The second half we really played. We played both ends, we played unselfishly, we got the ball in the basket, we got big stops when needed, we had some guys made some hellaciously big plays. Kleber hit some big shots, Luka obviously hit big shots, Richardson made a couple of huge plays – the layup down the stretch of overtime and then the 3-point shot.”
And when it was all wrapped in a tidy little bow, the Mavs got 38 points, nine rebounds and 13 assists from Doncic, 14 points apiece from Dorian Finney-Smith and Richardson, 12 points from Boban Marjanovic and 11 from Tim Hardaway Jr. They also were able to overcome an offensive onslaught from Nikola Jokic, who finished with 38 points and 11 rebounds.
With the score knotted at 114, Richardson buried a jumper and a 3-pointer to give Dallas a 119-114 lead with 1:25 left in overtime. And when Doncic drilled a step-back jumper with 33.1 seconds remaining, the Mavs were up 122-117 and got out of town with a win.
“As a team we’re doing better in these situations and this is going to be a big part of any success we’re able to have this year,” Carlisle said. “I like the way Luka handled the game.
“It was a slow start, it was not a very rhythmic game at the beginning. Both teams were struggling to score, but he stayed with it and found ways to make plays and get other guys involved and to get the win.”
More importantly, with the Mavs down one point, Doncic found Kleber for a wide open 3-pointer that put Dallas ahead, 109-107, with just 2.4 seconds left in regulation. Although Kleber hasn’t been scoring much lately, that had no bearing on what transpired in the clutch against the Nuggets.
“You’ve got to be ready, you’ve got to stay ready,” Kleber said. “The way we play the game you have to expect a shot at any time.
“A lot of times maybe I don’t get that many shots. But I know I have to be mentally in the game and stay ready to get my shots, and that’s what you’ve got to work on.”
Carlisle said it was a solid move when Doncic dialed Kleber’s number with the game on the line.
“It was just the right basketball play,” Carlisle said. “You don’t have to tell Luka Doncic that. He’s going to calculate situations, he’s going to make sure the ball’s in the right place at the right time.
“He was doing a good job of sharing the ball at the right times, but also getting the ball in the basket.”
And Carlisle had confidence in Kleber taking the clutch shot.
“Look, he’s a basketball player and he’s a very tough-minded guy and he understands team and there’s certain sacrifices you have to make to win games,” Carlisle said. “There’s a lot of stretches where a certain player may not touch the ball a whole lot, but we need that player to stay locked into our system defensively and be ready to step into shots aggressively when they’re there, and he did that.”
Jokic sent the game into overtime with a dramatic jumper at the buzzer. But undaunted, the Mavs took control in the overtime.
“I’ve got to lead the team in these moments,” Doncic said. “I’ve got to be a leader in these moments and I think today we did great. A lot of people hit those shots.”
And those big shots is what enabled the Mavs to defeat a Denver team that advanced to last season’s Western Conference Finals.
“We just said at halftime we got to flush the first half and we got to come out with some real resolve,” Carlisle said. “These games are tough.
“But if you hang in and hang around and give yourself a chance — you’ve got guys like Doncic on your team — you can be dangerous.”