A pre-game pep talk from owner Mark Cuban was the impetus the Dallas Mavericks used to eke out a hard-fought 134-132 triumph over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
Before the nationally televised game, coach Rick Carlisle asked Cuban if he would have a word with his team. Something encouraging and something to fire them up.
“He called me (Friday) and was just very encouraging about the entire situation,” Carlisle said. “He reiterated that we’ve had the toughest schedule in the league to this point, that we have an opportunity here and none of these games are going to be easy.
“He just wanted everybody to know that he was fully supportive of everything and everybody. It was heartwarming and I think it got our guys a little more juiced up to play.”
The Mavs, who host Minnesota on Monday, certainly appeared juiced up as they busted out of the locker room and assumed a quick 18-2 lead less than five minutes into the game. But the night was young, and Stephen Curry was just getting warmed up.
In one of those old school showdowns at the OK corral, Curry fired in a whopping 57 points while converting 11-of-19 shots from beyond the 3-point arc. Not to be out-done, Luka Doncic finished with a career-high tying 42 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists as the Mavs increased their record to 10-14.
“Guys like (Doncic) — and I was around (Larry) Bird and I was around Reggie Miller — when there’s another player on the other team raising his game to the level that Curry was, you feel an obligation if you’re that kind of player,” Carlisle said. “You just dig deep and you find a way to try to match the guy and try to match the guy for your team, and that’s exactly what he did.
“Whether it was shot-making, whether it was play-making, whether it was situations getting to the free throw line where we were in a rut, he was spectacular.”
So was Curry, who single-handedly kept the Warriors (12-11) within striking distance of the Mavs with a series of breath-taking shots from long distance. Curry was in such a zone that he already had 41 points less than five minutes into the third quarter after making his ninth 3-pointer which got the Warriors within 86-85 of the Mavs.
“What Steph does is unbelievable,” said Doncic, who was 7-of-12 from 3-point range. “I think that the way he plays the game is amazing.
“Every time he shoots a shot I always think that it’s going to go in.”
Ironically, the torrid shooting by Curry and Doncic notwithstanding, it was Maxi Kleber who scored the biggest basket of the night. Taking a pass from Doncic with the Mavs only ahead by one point, Kleber calmly drilled a 3-pointer from the corner to pad Dallas’ lead to 134-130 with just 5.6 seconds remaining.
“It felt good to make that shot,” said Kleber, who finished with 16 points and eight boards. “I obviously messed up on a couple of defensive plays before — on some one-on-one stuff — so that shot was definitely great to make at that point.
“I missed two open corner shots before and I was a little bit mad about it, and that shot felt even better.”
Kristaps Porzingis also had a nice balance of shots from in the post and behind the 3-point line as he collected 18 points and 10 rebounds.
“They are undersized,” Porzingis of the Warriors, whose tallest player that suited out was only 6-7 due to injuries. “I wanted to make sure I take better advantage of that.
“I still feel like I can get better at it and make sure we utilize my height even better.”
Despite 30 points in the first half from Curry, the Mavs led, 72-64, at intermission thanks to 21 points, five rebounds and five assists from Doncic, and 11 points and five boards from Porzingis. Curry was 7-of-10 from 3-point land in the opening half as his put his exceptional shooting range on full display.
“I don’t know if there’s a harder guy to play in basketball right now than Steph Curry, because of all the different ways he affects the game and his uncanny ability to make shots from anywhere on the floor,” Carlisle said. “It’s easy to get discouraged when a guy is making 30-foot shots in your face, but our guys just hung in and found a way to win it.”
Overall, the Mavs were 46-of-86 from the field for 53.5 percent and 21-of-47 from 3-point range. Meanwhile, the Warriors were 44-of-96 from the floor for 45.8 percent and 21-of-47 from 3-point land.
One of the big plays of the first half that brought the Mavs’ players off the bench occurred when Dwight Powell laid his body out and dove and saved a ball that eventually turned into a bucket by Trey Burke. A short time after that, Burke fed Porzingis in the post for a basket and a 49-39 lead for the Mavs.
Meanwhile, Curry and Doncic just kept going back-n-forth while making one insane entertaining basket after another. Curry was 19-of-31 from the field and Doncic was 12-of-23 from the floor.
“What a display of basketball out there,” Carlisle said. “Just amazing play-making and shot-making the entire night.
“Curry and Doncic were spectacular. Both teams played with a lot of heart and a lot of joy, which is a great thing to see. Our guys really banded together.”
Indeed, two days after losing at home to the Warriors by 31 points, the Mavs banded together following a pregame pep talk from their owner.
“Other things Mark said pregame, there’s a lot of season left – 49 games,” Carlisle said. “Said he’s seen teams that fracture and those that bond when things get tough, and he believes we are the latter.
“Good stuff from the heart.”