DETROIT – That makeshift starting lineup the Dallas Mavericks rolled onto the court had its way with the Detroit Pistons for the better part of Thursday night’s game.
But the Mavs couldn’t close the deal as the Pistons ended the game on a 14-6 run and went on to post a 93-89 victory over the short-handed Mavs before 14,075 fans at Little Caesars Arena. With the loss, the Mavs fell to 23-28 overall, 1-8 on the second night of a back-to-back, and 1-1 on this three-game road trip that ends Saturday in Cleveland.
Because of a blockbuster trade that involved seven players and two draft picks mere hours before tipoff, the Mavs only dressed 10 players against the Pistons. The trade saw the Mavs send Dennis Smith Jr, DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews and a pair of first-round draft picks to the New York Knicks for Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke and Courtney Lee.
Smith, Jordan and Matthews represented three-fifths of the Mavs’ starting lineup. Add the fact that Luka Doncic also missed Thursday’s game due to an ankle injury, and the Mavs were left to start Maxi Kleber, Jalen Brunson, Salah Mejri and Dorian Finney-Smith with only one of their regular starters – Harrison Barnes.
Still, the Mavs were in command of this game with an 11-point lead with 3:18 remaining in the third quarter, until they lost control down the stretch
“It was a great effort and we were just very mentally tough, we hung in there and made plays,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “It was headed to being a low-scoring game from the beginning and it just comes down to a play here and a play there.
“I love the way we competed, I’m disappointed we came up short, but obviously a lot of positives.”
Harrison Barnes led the Mavs with 27 points, but the other four starters combined to score just 23 points. However, Devin Harris came off the bench to score 15 points and Dwight Powell added 10, and Dirk Nowitzki receiver several warm welcomes from the crowd whenever the touched the ball and wound up with seven points in 13 minutes.
Barnes, though, pointed out how everything seemed to be alright after the Mavs defeated the Knicks in New York on Wednesday, 114-90, in a game where Smith registered a triple-double and Matthews popped in five 3-pointers in the first half.
“It’s difficult to hear that type of stuff, especially after a game like (Wednesday) night,” Barnes said. “We had one of those great games where everything’s clicking and you think maybe you hopefully can build off of this and go from there.
“And then to lose three starters like that is tough.”
It became particularly tough on the inside for the Mavs as Pistons center Andre Drummond (24 points, 20 rebounds) and power forward Blake Griffin (24 points, 10 boards) combined to make life treacherous for Dallas. Add the 17 points, seven rebounds and nine assists Reggie Jackson contributed, and it was easy to see how Detroit was able to stretch its record to 22-28.
“They’re tough and physical,” Carlisle said of Drummond and Griffin. “We were running into foul trouble with some of our bigs, but they put you in that kind of a bind.
“Griffin and Drummond both played great.”
While Drummond and Griffin were roaming the middle, the Mavs got some unsuspected production out of Harris, who played 23 minutes and was 6-of-11 from the field. A fast break layup by Harris put the Mavs out front, 47-36, late in the second quarter.
“Devin was great,” Carlisle said. “He was back to his former role of being the point guard during a lot of those stretches – he played very effectively.
“A real compliment to him during the second night of a back-to-back.”
Armed with a skeleton crew, Carlisle had to mix and match lineups wherever he could. And with this being the last leg of a back-to-back, the manpower shortage eventually took its toll on the Mavs.
“Yeah, it affects it, but this is the NBA,” Carlisle said. “These things happen and it’s next man up, and hey, you play with what you’ve got.
“I’m proud of the way we competed. Again, I’m disappointed we couldn’t quite get over the hump. Our guys certainly played well enough to get the win, but it was just a play or two here and there.”