Over the previous six games, opponents of the Dallas Mavericks poured in 30 of more points in the fourth quarter in all those games. But on Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks, the Mavs finally put up their dukes and decided they weren’t going to take it any more.
Buoyed by a strong defensive performance in the fourth quarter, the Mavs rallied from a 13-point deficit in the third quarter and went on to clip the Hawks, 118-117, at American Airlines Center. It was the fourth win in their last five games — including their third in a row — as they pushed their won-loss record to 12-14 entering Friday’s home game against New Orleans.
In the process, the Mavs showed some defensive muscle in holding the Hawks to 27 points on 9-of-22 shooting in the fourth quarter after Atlanta was 31-of-66 from the field in the first three quarters.
“(Willie) Cauley-Stein had a lot to do with it,” coach Rick Carlisle said of team’s smothering fourth-quarter defense. “He was a big factor around the basket, he was rebounding the ball, he changed some shots. On an on-off basis, he’s our best defender for the season.”
And when the game was still hanging in the balance, it was Cauley-Stein who tipped the scales in the Mavs’ factor. Following a pair of timeouts with 4.7 seconds remaining and the Mavs clinging precariously to that one-point lead, the Hawks brought the ball inbounds and Atlanta point guard Trae Young found himself in a collision with Cauley-Stein.
The ball eventually landed in the hands of Danilo Gallinari, who misfired from 20 feet and the Mavs danced happily off the court and increased their record on this seven-game homestand to 3-1.
“I didn’t even see Trae,” Cauley-Stein said. “He’s a smart kid. He was trying to get a quick little foul to shoot free throws to ice the game.
“No way they were going to give him that call for the game. Good try, though. That was smooth. It was sneaky.”
And it obviously didn’t work.
Cauley-Stein was 5-of-6 from the field and finished with 14 points and six rebounds in just 23 minutes while being named the Defensive Player of the Game by Carlisle.
“I’ll do anything to try to get our team a win,” Cauley-Stein said. “Whether it’s scoring points, blocking shots. It doesn’t matter what I have to do. I love to do anything.
“I’m going out there to play as hard as I can and just keep the stakes and keep the ball moving and make plays when it comes my way. Other than that, just try to keep it simple.”
Behind some solid performances from John Collins (33 points), Kevin Huerter (23 points) and Young (25 points, 15 assists), the Hawks were pushing the Mavs around and were making themselves right at home. Atlanta (11-13) mounted an 81-68 lead with 5:30 left in the third quarter after Collins tossed in a 14-foot jumper.
From there, steam started spewing from the Mavs’ heads as they finally buckled down defensively and outscored the Hawks, 50-36, the remainder of the game.
“I was really proud of our fourth quarter,” Carlisle said. “The first three quarters were very up and down. We were indifferent defensively, we weren’t tied together offensively, and the group that finished the game – led by Willie Cauley-Stein, who was a plus 19 – found a way to win the game..
“The first three quarters were pretty frustrating for everybody. But in the fourth quarter it was pure basketball, it was pure unselfishness offensively and pure grit defensively, and I was proud of the team the way they responded.”
Offensively, the tide turned for the Mavs when Tim Hardaway Jr. opened the fourth quarter by going on a personal 7-0 run to narrow Dallas’ deficit to 90-88. Before that outburst, Hardaway only had three points on 1-of-4 shots for the game.
“Jenny Boucek, one of my (assistant) coaches, came to me during a timeout and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get Tim a shot, we just got to get him going,’ “ Carlisle said. “So we set up a play, we got him a shot and he banged in a three and that kind of got the team going.
“Jenny’s recognition of that situation, and then Tim being able to get the ball in the basket, it got us going, it got the fans in the building going, it ignited our defense and a lot of good things happened after that.”
Hardaway scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shots in the fourth quarter and finished the night with 19 points. Elsewhere, Jalen Brunson hit some critical baskets and wound up scoring 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter.
“I thought Brunson had one of his best games of the year,” Carlisle said. “Statistically, he had a 30-point game (at Chicago on Jan. 3) and this, that and the other, but the 21 that he had tonight on 9-for-18, this was very, very timely.
“He just got a really good overall feel for the game and he’s able to attack a guy like Young without disrupting what the team’s trying to do and without it turning into an all-out iso game, which is something that screws teams up.”
A 3-pointer by Brunson padded the Mavs’ lead to 107-101 with 5:01 left in the game as he was relentless on the offensive end of the floor in the fourth quarter.
“In the fourth quarter the opportunity presented itself,” Brunson said. “I was able to make plays down the stretch to help the team win.
“We’re just doing the little things. Whatever I can do to help this team win, I’m all for that. That’s always been my mentality.”
While Hardaway and Brunson were doing supreme damage offensively in the fourth quarter, Luka Doncic racked up his NBA-leading seventh triple-double of the season as he collected 28 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Still, the Mavs had to sweat it out while the last-second shot by Gallinari missed its mark.
“I was so happy when they missed the shot to get us back on the winning track,” Doncic said. “We’ve got three in a row, but we’re just getting started.
“We keep improving with every game and I was so happy that that shot didn’t go in.”
And Cauley-Stein was so happy to get in the game and have a huge impact after missing the previous two contests due to a coach’s decision.
“Listen, I’ve got to give him big props,” Carlisle said. “Here’s a guy who didn’t play the last two games and he kept working.
“He’s been in early every day keeping himself ready, and I let him know yesterday that there’s a high probability he was going to be involved in this game, and then he was terrific. It just goes to show you that with everyone’s fixation on offense these days, a guy can come in a game and be a major factor and only focus on defense and be the hub of a lot of great things.”