How much fun did the Mavericks have this season?
It was enough to spill over into their postseason locker-cleanout day, when they had moments of laughter with the media members, of all people.
Theo Pinson and Tim Hardaway Jr. emerged from exit interviews with management and decided to give their opinions on some things.
Specifically, how the Mavericks are the best-looking team in the NBA.
They may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but they are the hottest roster in the league. Here’s how the interaction went:
Resident jokester Theo Pinson and Tim Hardaway Jr., the guys who were in charge of making sure the bench got fined three times in the playoffs for too much celebrating, were talking about how great the Mavericks look.
“I mean, look at us,” Pinson said. “We got me, Tim, Maxi (Kleber).”
We’ll give you one guess as to who each player said was the No. 1 best-looking?
Let’s put it this way, they were like brothers arguing over who got the looks and who got the brains, except that none of them were budging on either one.
When Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock took to the microphone, Finney-Smith said: “Oh, we’re top two. And not two. Tied for first. I mean, look at us. He just let his grow and I cut mine.”
It was just a quick little glimpse into how this team bonded over the course of eight months.
Even when they were eliminated in Game 5 on Thursday at Golden State, it was Pinson who stopped by the interview room and gave his own description of the season: “I’ll guarantee you, nobody had more fun than we did.”
So let’s review for all these good-looking people in Dallas. Here’s a look at 10 highlights, including some that you may not have known about, from the season that ended up lasting 100 games (regular season and playoffs) and giving all of us more entertainment value than anybody expected.
Luka Dončić had another stellar season and it was acknowledged with his third consecutive all-NBA first-team honor.
That’s three years in a row that the 6-7 point guard has been first team and he joined the short list of players who have been first-team honorees three times before turning 24.
That would be Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan and Max Zaslofsky.
It was another nod to his greatness, but there will be a lot of other elite lists that Dončić joins before he’s done.
GAME 6 AT UTAH
Breaking through for the first time is usually the hardest thing to do, no matter what profession you’re in.
Winning your first playoff series is no different.
For Dončić, Jalen Brunson, Maxi Kleber and others who had been together four years in Dallas but had never played beyond the first round, winning Game 6 in Utah 98-96 was like getting that anvil removed from their shoulders.
It gave the Mavericks a 4-2 series win over the Jazz.
The Mavericks had played the first three games of the series without Dončić, who was recovering from a calf muscle strain. That’s when Jalen Brunson came up with his 41-point gem in Game 2 and followed it with a 31-point night in Game 3 at Utah, both wins that put the Mavericks in the driver’s seat.
When Luka returned, they lost Game 4 at Utah, but protected home court and closed it out on the road.
NEW YEAR’S EVE
It wasn’t just a time to pop the champagne corks.
It was a time for the Mavericks to celebrate the beginning of not just a new year, but a new attitude and a new era.
They scored a convincing 112-96 victory at Sacramento, a win that got them to 17-18 and began a 10-1 stretch that may not have saved the season, but certainly reversed the momentum that had gone south after COVID-19 and injuries ravaged the team earlier in December.
“I’m going to have to give credit to the guys in the G-League,” said Tim Hardaway Jr. “When a lot of the guys, including myself and Luka, were out due to COVID and injuries, those G-League guys came in and gave us a spark – B-Knight (Brandon Knight), I.T. (Isaiah Thomas) and obviously Theo and many more.
“Them coming in and giving their all and doing what coach Kidd and the staff was telling them, they helped put us in position to win a lot of those games. They kept the juices going for us.”
MAJOR WINS ALONG THE WAY
The Mavericks had a few clunkers during this season.
Losing twice to New York and Washington was unforgiveable when those defeats happened.
But it happens during the course of a long season.
What also happened was that they made up for those disappointments with wins at Miami, at Boston, at Golden State and at Milwaukee.
If you were paying attention back then, that should have been a tipoff that the Mavericks had great potential to run with the top dogs of the NBA. Three of those teams were playing in the conference finals, along with the Mavericks.
WHAT A FINE MESS
This comes from the now-it-can-be-told department.
The Mavericks surely became the first pro sports team in history to get fined three times in 10 days – for celebrating too much.
We thought celebration penalties were reserved for the NFL.
But the Mavericks got tagged three times: first for $25,000, then for $50,000 and finally for $100,000 for breaching the “bench decorum” mandate.
Players, particularly Pinson and Hardaway, who were unable to suit up for the playoffs, were encroaching on the court. And, in one case, influencing play.
In Game 2 at Chase Center, Pinson was wearing a white shirt, much like the Warriors’ white home jerseys. Steph Curry fired a pass to Pinson on the sideline for a turnover during on Golden State possession.
“Game 3 was intentional Everything else was not intentional,” Pinson said. “We got fined and when I found out, I called Tim and said, I hope you got a white shirt tonight. They’re wearing white. We’re wearing white. That’s the only game we planned it.”
Said Hardaway: “That was just us being petty.”
As for Curry’s pass to the Mavericks’ bench?
“I had lettering on my shirt. How is that my fault?” Pinson said.
Added Hardaway: “I mean, he made the correct pass. The guy just wasn’t spaced correctly.”
“You want to know what’s funny about all this,” Pinson said. “They didn’t say nothing when we were losing. When we lost, you never heard anybody complain.
“But when you start winning, they’re like, oh, they’re up too much they’re getting on our nerves. I would be mad if I got beat by 40, too.”
A reference, of course, to Game 7 in Phoenix.
Meanwhile, Hardaway hopes the fans were paying attention.
“It was amazing. It was the best feeling ever,” he said of getting fined. “I hope fans can take some notes. That’s how you get yourself involved in the game. Every time we were standing, we had our crowd standing behind us the majority of the game. So it showed they were into it as well.”
THE LINEUP SHIFT
When the Mavericks lost at Indiana on Dec. 10, Jalen Brunson came off the bench and scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds.
It would be the last time this season he would play as a sixth man.
He was inserted in the starting lineup the following game as Dončić was sidelined first by injury, then by COVID-19 protocols.
Jason Kidd could never get Brunson out of the lineup once he made that move.
Brunson would average 17.1 points and 4.8 assists over the last 55 games he played.
The Mavericks, by the way, went 39-16 in those games.
As the Mavericks went deeper in the playoffs, mavs.com asked many experts whether Dallas would be playing in the Western Conference finals if they had not made the trade with Washington in February that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Wizards.
The overwhelming majority said: not a chance.
It wasn’t necessarily an addition-by-subtraction situation. The Mavericks valued Porzingis and the many weapons he brought with him. Enough so to give him a maximum contract even though he was coming off of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
But what they couldn’t count on was Porzingis’ health. And that was the main reason they dealt him for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans.
It turned out to be a clear win for the Mavericks, if for no other reason than they accomplished way more than anybody expected in the three months that Dinwiddie and Bertans were with the organization.
Going forward, we’ll all watch to see what Porzingis does in Washington, but the Mavericks are happy they made the deal, regardless.
DIRK JERSEY RETIREMENT
When it happened, it looked like it might be the highlight of the season. The Mavericks had barely gotten back to .500 at that point. And nobody could realistically predict this team would play into late May. Just getting to late April looked problematic.
But the Mavericks beat Golden State 99-82 that night. It was the fourth win in a six-game streak that started on New Year’s Eve. The Mavericks were on their way from a 16-18 record to 22-18.
In a way, Nowitzki’s night helped this team immeasurably. They would never look back at the .500 mark again. They seemed to get energized by a night honoring the greatest Maverick of them all.
And Nowitzki seemed completely fine with whatever kind of symbolic passing of the torch there might have been to Luka.
The more success the Mavericks had, the more it seemed to be an indictment on Rick Carlisle.
Subtle references to the way things used to be as opposed to the fresh approach Jason Kidd provided were prevalent this season.
But the fact remains that Carlisle remains the most successful coach in Mavericks’ history.
Kidd wasn’t going to change that overnight. Or in one season.
But he laid a terrific foundation.
By getting players to buy into the culture of chemistry, accountability and communication, the roster grew close. They were a tight-knit bunch that was able to give each other loads of razzing, but also would dive on grenades for each other.
“Coach did a good job of getting everybody to buy in,” Finney-Smith said. “He’s the only person in the locker room who’s been (where we want to go). So we kind of just follow his lead.”
When Kidd guided the Mavericks into the Western Conference finals in his first season in Dallas, it validated that he was the right man for the job when Carlisle left after the 2020-21 season.
For a young team and a young superstar, going through the pressure and the excitement of a Game 7 is a huge part of learning how to win big in the playoffs.
There’s nothing quite like a Game 7.
Especially when you blow out the No. 1 seeded team in the NBA.
On their court.
Luka Dončić had a monster game, as is his custom when the season is on the line, scoring 35 points to go with 10 rebounds as the Mavericks led 92-50 after three quarters and he didn’t have to play a second in the fourth quarter.
The Mavericks eventually won 123-90, a beat-down that shocked the Suns and just about everybody else in the NBA. It was the first time a road team had won in the Western Conference semifinals series after six consecutive wins by the home team.
And it was a day of pure joy for the Mavericks’ organization.