DALLAS – One game after inexplicably failing to get off a game-tying shot before time expired against the New Orleans Pelicans this past Friday, Dennis Smith Jr. bounced back with authority and manufactured two of the biggest plays of Sunday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The twin clutch plays by Smith were the impetus the Dallas Mavericks used to eke out a hard-fought 105-103 triumph over the Thunder and stretch their record to 17-18 before a sellout crowd of 20,380 at American Airlines Center. And it shows how quickly the pendulum can swing in an NBA game from one game to the next.
First, Smith worked his way from the perimeter and wheeled inside and scored with 24.8 seconds left to put the Mavs out front, 104-103. But the second-year point guard wasn’t finished dialing up some heroics.
After getting caught on a switch and now faced with defending Paul George – he scored the Thunder’s final 13 points – Smith stayed chest-to-chest with the perennial All-Star forward and forced him into missing a step-back 19-footer with four seconds remaining. That put the finishing touches on a whirlwind 48 hours for Smith.
“This is what being a big-time player is all about,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Smith. “He makes the go-ahead basket at one end and you guard the best player at the other end.
“He wasn’t intended to be on George, but they were doing a lot of things to facilitate switching. So he ended up on him and made him take a difficult shot and broke the rhythm a little bit.”
DeAndre Jordan rebounded George’s final missed shot, then split a pair of charity tosses with two seconds to go that gave the Mavs a two-point lead and complete a game-ending 10-2 run. Following a Thunder timeout, Russell Westbrook’s 3-pointer from the left corner missed its mark and the Mavs were able to pad their home record to an impressive 15-3.
Between the Mavs showing some resiliency by winning and also beating the Thunder on the boards, 49-39, most of the locker room chatter was about the defense Smith played against George, who finished with a game-high 36 points.
“It was clutch,” said center DeAndre Jordan, who collected 12 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks. “Paul is a helluva offensive player and he’s being playing extremely well this season for them scoring the basketball.
“And Dennis, we needed him to get a stop for us late. And he made a great defensive play and made Paul take a tough shot and we were able to get a rebound.”
After trailing 28-27 at the end of the first quarter and 59-57 at the half, the Mavs started the second half on a blistering 12-0 run. Smith helped engineer that rally by touching it off with a pair of 3-pointers, and Maxi Kleber and Luka Doncic (25 points, seven assists) also each added a 3-pointer as the Mavs mounted a 69-59 lead.
But the Thunder came roaring back and bolted head, 101-95, with 1:59 remaining after George drained a 3-pointer. However, Doncic hit two charity tosses, Harrison Barnes stole the ball from George and fed Jordan for a flying dunk, and suddenly the Mavs were back in business and only down, 101-99 with 1:40 left.
A basket by George increased OKC’s lead to four. But Jordan tossed in a free throw, Barnes stole another pass and made a pair of free throws, and Westbrook misfired on a 3-point shot. All of this set the stage for the driving layup by Smith that ultimately was the winning basket and helped him redeem what transpired down the stretch in New Orleans.
“With Dennis it’s all about keeping his speed in the game,” Carlisle said. ”When he keeps that vertical thrust towards the rim. . .nobody can stay in front of him.
“Pretty typically the last play of the game he ends up getting by and laying the ball in, so it was a beautiful thing. He’s come a long way, but we always knew the ability was there, the competitiveness was there. It was just a matter of experience, and then tasting winning and tasting a lot of losing and getting to the point where you hate losing even more than you love winning. And that’s where this team has got to find its growth.”
The Mavs turned the ball over 24 times, but held Westbrook to just nine points on 4-of-22 shooting. But Carlisle isn’t banking on Westbrook being that discombobulated when the Mavs face the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Monday at 7 p.m.
“We got lucky — he had an off shooting night,” Carlisle said. “We stayed in front of him pretty well.
“But look, he’s a great player. Knowing him, I‘m not looking forward to tomorrow night.”
NOTES: This was the seventh time in the last eight games that Luka Doncic has scored at least 20 points. The only time he didn’t score at least 20 points was on Dec. 22 at Golden State when he scored 19 points. By the way, over the past eight games Doncic is averaging 25.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 7.1 apg on 46.3 percent shooting and 39 percent shooting from 3-point land. He also has attempted 10.1 free throws during that span while shooting 71.6 percent from the line . .Asked prior to Sunday’s game if he thought Doncic had done enough to be considered for this year’s All-Star game, OKC coach Billy Donovan said: “I haven’t seen hm enough. I’m probably the wrong guy to ask. (Mavs coach) Rick (Carlisle) is probably better to ask. Obviously we’ve seen him on film. Obviously he’s very gifted, he’s a smart player, he’s got good skill and good size. But this is the second time we’re playing them, so it’s not like I’ve watched a lot of their games to probably be educated enough to say whether or not he deserves that kind of honor. I’m not saying he does or he doesn’t. I just haven’t seen enough of him.”. .When asked prior to Sunday’s game what he wants this season from Dirk Nowitzki, coach Rick Carlisle said: “Just to be able to play consistent minutes with that second unit. With the ultimate hope that he can build up his base to be able to play as many minutes as necessary. He’s one of the Top 10-15 players of all time and he’s now coming off the bench. It’s not normal. It’s very unique. We knew things were headed in this direction in the offseason. He and I talked about it and we made it public early on. It’s not a normal situation.” . .Before Mavs fans become familiar with Dorian Finney-Smith, Billy Donovan was very familiar with him. Finney-Smith played for Donovan at Florida from 2013-’15 before Donovan left prior to Finney-Smith’s senior season to become the coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although Finney-Smith went undrafted in 2016, Donovan felt the NBA executives simply got it all wrong. “I always felt like he was a pro, being around him and coaching him,” Donovan said. “I think the biggest thing for him was being a little bit more aggressive at times. He had all the tools. He’s a really competitive guy and he plays the game the right way. Sometimes he can be unselfish to a fault, but he’s got length, he’s got size, he’s a good rebounder, he’s got good hands, he knows how to play, he’s smart and he’s got good passing ability.”