With Luka Doncic shining brighter than the brightest star and the defense smothering Trae Young and making his life miserable, the Dallas Mavericks finally got that 2,000-pound gorilla off their backs.
Doncic finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists, and the Mavs built a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and held off Atlanta in the end before getting out of State Farm Arena with a pulsating 122-116 victory. The win snapped the Mavs’ six-game losing streak as they were finally able to have two tons of fun while increasing their won-loss record to 9-13.
“Much-needed win,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guys did a great job fighting back from a (56-53) deficit at halftime. We played great team basketball.
“Winning is huge. It makes a big difference. Things are very upbeat right now.”
Things are very upbeat right now because this was the Mavs’ first victory since they won in San Antonio on Jan. 22. This also snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Mavs for games played in Atlanta — their previous last victory in this city was Mar. 18, 2013.
And it didn’t come easy.
A 3-pointer by Kristaps Porzingis (24 points, 11 rebounds) lifted the Mavs ahead, 108-94, with just 5:10 remaining in the game. But the Hawks came flying back and chopped the lead down to three points on three occasions – the last tine at 117-114 following a layup by Young with 24.9 seconds left.
But Tim Hardaway Jr. split a pair of charity tosses with 12.2 seconds to go to bump the lead up to four points. And after Young misfired on a 3-pointer, Doncic nailed the final two points in the coffin when he buried a couple of free throws with just 3.2 seconds to go.
“It wasn’t perfect the way we did it, but we got a win and that’s all that matters to me,” Doncic said. “We were so happy after the game. It’s been a tough stretch, but it feels good to win a game.”
The Mavs don’t have much time to celebrate this win, because they’ll host the Golden State Warriors on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at American Airlines Center in a game that will be televised nationally on TNT.
“We’ve got to get home quick because we’ve got a pretty quick turnaround,” Carlisle said. “This game tomorrow night is at 6:30 local (time), which is a little bit unusual for a Western Conference game — a national TV game.
“But hey, the challenges are going to keep coming. None of this stuff is going to be easy and this was a much-needed step tonight.”
The challenges were certainly difficult going against the Hawks, who came in leading the Southeast Division and armed with a prime-time superstar in Young. However, the Mavs smothered Young for most of the night, trapping him with two players once he crossed midcourt and forcing him to get rid of the ball quicker than he wanted to.
The plan worked as Young finished with just 21 points on 8-of-18 shots.
“I feel like we did a really good job with it,” Carlisle said of his team’s trapping defense on Young. “It’s a lot of work. He’s going to make plays and he’s going to get guys’ shots and dunks and stuff like that.
“You just got to keep your head down and just keep executing, and I thought the guys did a great job of doing that tonight. It was, I thought, successful from the standpoint of the guys’ commitment to it and the trust in it. (Josh) Richardson did a great job. He was shadowing him all over the court all night long.”
While the defense was rattling Young, Jalen Brunson and Hardaway came off the bench in the third quarter to spark a rally and help the Mavs get some separation between themselves and the Hawks. Hardaway tallied 11 of his 22 points in the third quarter, and Brunson added five points in the final 32 seconds of the third quarter as the Mavs toted an 88-83 led into the final quarter.
“Brunson and Hardaway have been great off the bench,” Carlisle said. “They’ve got a great spirit about the team.
“When I talked to Tim the other day about the lineup with Maxi (Kleber) coming back he couldn’t have been more open-minded to coming off the bench. He gave us great minutes tonight. It’s a great luxury having a guy like Tim coming off the bench.”
Considering the rut the Mavs were in coming into Wednesday’s game, Hardaway was just happy to get in where he can fit in. And when asked his thoughts on breaking the six-game losing streak, he said: “We’ve got the Warriors next. It doesn’t get any easier. That team is fast, they play hard, it’s non-stop movement, they’re active on both ends of the floor.
“We’ve got to just keep on fighting. It doesn’t get any easier. We’re happy that we got the win today, but our whole focus now turns to Golden State and making sure that we find a way to get two wins in a row.”
Porzingis definitely did his part is assisting the Mavs in snapping their longest losing streak since they dropped seven straight from Mar. 2-14, 2019. In addition to that huge 3-pointer that put the Mavs up by 14, Porzingis negotiated a tip-in that gave Dallas some breathing room and a 117-112 lead with only 31.9 seconds left.
“Today I got myself in a decent rhythm in some moments and my teammates found me,” said Porzingis, who was 10-of-20 from the field. “I wasn’t shooting the ball great from the outside.
“But then I hit a more important three at the end, and in the end we were able to get the win and I’m happy about that.”
Doncic popped in eight points and handed out three assists, and Hardaway drilled a late 3-pointer that nudged the Mavs ahead, 26-22, after the first quarter.
A behind the back pass from Doncic to Richardson for a layup, and a driving hoop by Doncic staked the Mavs to an early 13-4 lead with 7:37 left in the first quarter. The Mavs applied some heavy pressure and forced six turnovers by the Hawks in the game’s opening five minutes.
In addition to the contributions from Young, John Collins paced the Hawks (10-11) with 35 points and 12 rebounds, Kevin Huerter finished with 21 points, five rebounds and 10 assists, Danilo Gallinari tallied 19 points, and Clint Capela collected 10 points and 14 rebounds. Meanwhile, the Mavs had six players score 12 or more points.
Other than Doncic, Porzingis and Hardaway, Richardson tallied 14 points and grabbed six rebounds, Dorian Finney-Smith finished with 13 points and five boards, and Brunson notched 12 points.
“When we play good, we play good defensively, and I think today we did a great job — the whole team defensively,” Doncic said. “And that’s what get us going and that’s what we have to do every game.”