Less than two hours before his team took the court Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd discussed how their resolve would be tested in the wake of a slew of painstakingly difficult losses.
Consider the test passed.
With Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis setting the table, and Reggie Bullock and Moses Brown making major contributions, the Mavs defeated the Grizzlies, 104-96, in a very physical game that involved eight technical fouls and more chippy-ness than meets the eye. The victory snapped the Mavs’ three-game losing streak and pushed their record to 12-12, while the Grizzlies (14-11) saw their five-game winning streak fall by the wayside.
Next up for the Mavs is their first meeting against former coach Rick Carlisle, who now coaches the Indiana Pacers. The Mavs-Pacers game is Friday night in Indianapolis.
But before tackling the Pacers – and even before tackling the Grizzlies – the Mavs had to first flush Tuesday’s disappointing 102-99 home loss to the Brooklyn Nets out of their system in a game where Dallas held a 17-point lead in the second half. The Mavs certainly did that and plenty more as they overcame a 12-point third-quarter deficit against Memphis, and then broke loose from a 79-79 tie on a Dorian Finney-Smith bucket with 8:34 remaining and never looked back.
“It felt really good for everybody to get a win,” said Doncic, who contributed 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. “We’ve been struggling lately, but today it was a physical game and I think we responded really well.
“The last game (against Brooklyn) we had a 17-point lead and we blew it. And today we just needed to secure the win, and that’s what we did in the fourth quarter.”
The win was secured after Doncic scored inside, then drilled back-to-back three-pointers as Dallas vaulted ahead, 90-81, with 5:26 left. Reggie Bullock then buried a triple and added another basket.
And when Kidd won a coach’s challenge that prevented Porzingis from fouling out of the game, Porzingis won the jump ball, then scurried down the floor for as hammer dunk and a 100-86 led with just 3:02 to go.
“A lot of time everybody wants to talk about X’s and O’s,” Kidd said, referring to a halftime speech. “We talked about pride and composure. Who’s going to keep their composure here in the second half, because it is testy.
“A lot of times when you play a team so close almost in a sense of back-to-back, things get a little testy because you know what’s coming. We did as great job in keeping our composure. Again, we tried to find a way to win on the road. You’ve got to play above the whistle and I thought the guys did that tonight.”
Another thing the Mavs did is get a major contribution from Brown, who has played sparingly this season, but was out there scratching and clawing against Steven Adams and winning his fair share of those battles.
“For me it was all about staying ready and just staying locking in what we were doing,” said Brown, who produced nine points, seven rebounds and two blocks n just 12 minute. “I just had the same approach as if I would go out there and play every day and pretty much that’s it — stay locked in.
“Just staying ready and just having that sense of urgency just knowing that when you get on the court you have a job to complete and you’re going out there to do that. And everything that comes from it is just you and your effort, and I just try to maintain that same mentality every time I’m on the court, and even if I’m on the bench just staying locked in as if I was out there.”
That approach was exactly what the Mavs needed as center Willie Cauley-Stein missed his sixth straight game due to personal reasons, and guard Sterling Brown was also sidelined with soreness in his left foot.
“Moses prepares as if he’s going to play,” Kidd said. “He comes early to the arena on game days and he prepares as if he’s going to play, knowing that he probably is not going to play.
“I felt today would be a good time to get him in the rotation, and he was great for us.”
So to was Bullock, who buried 5-of-7 shots from the floor — including 4-of-6 from downtown — and finished with 15 points and a season-high four assists.
“Everybody in the organization, everybody on the team, they believe in me shooting the ball,” Bullock said. “It’s just all about me just catching it in rhythm, and making sure I’m down and ready to shoot it every time.
“I just felt confident seeing one go in. I know it’s been a long time coming. It’s good to see one go in, and as you see one go in you just keep continue to build off of that.”
Much was made of the fact that the last time the Grizzlies trailed in a game was during a 132-100 loss to the Atlanta Hawks back on Nov. 26. This was the sixth game Memphis has played since then.
Thanks to an early three-point play by Porzingis the Mavs took a 3-2 lead and actually wound up leading on seven different occasions in the first quarter and 11 times for the entire game. The last Mavs’ first-quarter lead – at 26-25 – came when Brunson split a pair of free throws with just 0.2 seconds to go in the opening quarter.
Before the game, Kidd discussed the impact the 2-8 record over the previous 10 games has had on his team.
“We’re all being tested right now to see if our spirit and our faith is strong enough to stay together and stay the course, and that’s what a mature team will do,” he said. “We’re young and we’re being tested because we’re getting a lot of wide open shots – now just in the fourth quarter, but during the game.
“You’ve got guys hanging their heads or second-guessing themselves, and they’ve got to let it go.”
Not only did the Mavs let their past missteps go, they shot 48.1 percent from the field, held Memphis to 39.3 percent shooting and also outrebounded the Grizzlies, 47-40.
“In this group, you could see they were into the game,” Kidd said. “I think Mosses and Josh (Green) gave us a spark tonight. They were up on the bench cheering for those guys and that’s what show we are a team.
“As much as we can talk about shooting, guys were cheering defensively. As we talked about before the game, we just needed three or four guys to score – not everybody— and that’s kind of what happened today.”
In addition to Doncic and Bullock, Porzingis tallied 19 points, and Jalen Brunson collected 10 points, five rebounds and six assists.
For the Mavs, now it’s on to Indiana where Carlisle and the Pacers are waiting.