Rick Carlisle has always placed a lot of emphasis on his team’s depth. Saturday night, the Dallas Mavericks’ coach got a glimpse of what that depth may look like this season.
With their starters done for the night after only playing the first half, the Mavs’ reserves stepped up and completely took over the game while fueling Dallas’ come-from-behind hard-fought 112-102 triumph over the highly-regarded Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night at the Fiserv Forum. In this preseason opener for both teams, the Mavs’ second unit outscored the Bucks by a whopping 38-15 margin in the third quarter in flipping this game totally in their favor.
And most of that damage came against the Milwaukee starters as the Mavs turned a 59-53 halftime deficit into a 91-74 lead entering the fourth quarter.
“They were great, and they were terrific in the first half as well,” coach Rick Carlisle said of his second unit. “That group has got some real synergy. They all know how to play with each other, they move it randomly, they understand their strengths and how to help each other get good shots on offense.
“Defensively, they just fight together as a group. Their run in the first and second quarters — that stretch late first, early second was good. And the third quarter was even better.”
Carlisle started Trey Burke, Jalen Brunson, Maxi Kleber, Willie Cauley-Stein and rookie Josh Green in the second half. And Burke and Brunson kept punishing the Bucks for baskets much like they did when Burke played the last half of the 2018-19 season with the Mavs.
And when rookie Tyrell Terry banged in a 3-pointer at the outset of the fourth quarter, the Mavs found themselves with a commanding 94-74 lead against the team that had the NBA’s best regular season record last year.
In all, the Mavs took five charges and frustrated the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo – he won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award the last two seasons – into drawing four fouls before the third quarter was over. Also, newcomer Josh Richardson tallied nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range, and also was a menace on defense.
From the Mavs’ perspective, it looks like that attention to becoming better on the defensive end of the court is already paying off.
“One of our goals was to be better defensively,” Carlisle said. “This is a big challenge against this team. Those (charges) are big momentum plays in just the normal flow of an NBA basketball game, especially when you’re on the road.
“I thought we were pretty good defensively tonight. I thought we had more struggles on the offensive side of the ball when the ball stuck a little bit from time to time. We’ll look at the film and see, but in today’s game if you’re going to be a good defensive team it starts with your perimeter defense and your ability to play your guy one-on-one, and we feel we’ve gotten better with our roster moves.”
Based on first appearances, the Mavs’ rookies sure didn’t play like first-year players. Nate Hinton finished with eight points and eight rebounds, Terry scored five points, Tyler Bey contributed four points and blocked two shots, Devonte Patterson drained a 3-pointer, and Freddie Gillespie tallied two points.
“You know when you get a group of rookies out there together for the first time in an NBA game that there’s going to be ups and downs, but these guys did well,” Carlisle said. “They didn’t let missed shots affect their effort at all. I thought Boban (Marjanovic) did a really good job of settling that group down and gave them a guy to play through.
“Tyler Bey was really active defensively, you saw Hinton making a lot of active defensive plays and really sitting down and guarding people. Terry took a charge, and the other two kids – Patterson and Gillespie – they did a really job when they got in there. Patterson immediately just walked right into a rainbow three that hit nothing but net, and Gillespie made a couple of physical plays and got a bucket. I’m happy for those kids. It’s a big deal playing in your first NBA game.”
Hinton quickly scored inside the paint and added a 3-pointer shortly thereafter once he got on the floor in the third quarter. And when the Bucks sliced the Mavs’ lead down to 107-100, it was Hinton who scored inside, was fouled and buried the ensuing free throw to pad Dallas’ lead to 110-100 with 1:06 remaining in the game.
“The vets just told me to go out there and hoop with no conscious, and just go play, and that’s what we did,” Hinton said. “Me and the rookies, we just got comfortable and just kind of went out there and tried not to lose the lead.”
Veterans like Kleber were appreciative of the workmanlike approach the rookies took to their first NBA game.
“They did an amazing job bringing the right energy and just letting the ball flow, playing with a lot of confidence – exactly what we were talking about,” said Kleber, who had 13 points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes. “Especially on the defensive end (the rookies were) just playing hard and bringing the energy.”
The game also meant the return of center Dwight Powell and Brunson, who are two of the Mavs’ pre-eminent energy players. Powell missed the remainder of last season after undergoing torn right Achilles tendon surgery on Jan. 28, and Brunson also missed the rest of last season after he had right shoulder surgery on Mar. 14.
Powell started Saturday’s game, played 16 minutes and finished with five points and six rebounds, while Brunson also played 16 minutes and collected 10 points and four assists.
“We were super hyped that Dwight is finally back,” Kleber said. “Even in practice he’s the kind of player you definitely want to have on your team bringing that energy every day.
“I’m just glad I have my pre-game routine back and everything, and everybody was just super hyped for him. When we got back to the locker room, everybody was just welcoming him back — same with JB. Having those two guys back in just big-time for us.”
It also was big-time for the Mavs to hold the Bucks to just 40.4 percent shooting, including to only 23.7 percent shooting (9-of-38) from beyond the 3-point arc. The Mavs hope to build on that success when they face the Bucks again in their second preseason game on Monday at 7 p.m. in Milwaukee.
“I think we did a great job (on defense),” said Luka Doncic, who had 13 points and four assists in 16 minutes. “Milwaukee is one of the top teams in the NBA. We don’t have a lot of time, and we just got to keep going like that and keep practicing.”