He sat patiently on the bench for the Dallas Mavericks’ first six games this season. But on the seventh game, J. J. Barea showed that he’s still got it.
The last link, player-wise, to the Mavs’ 2011 championship, Barea played his first game of the season Wednesday night and provided a crucial spark to the team’s 107-106 cliffhanger of a win over the Orlando Magic at American Airlines Center.
With the victory, the Mavs padded their record to 5-2 headed into Friday’s home game against the New York Knicks.
Before Barea made his season debut against the Magic, the Mavs looked like a ship without a rudder. The offense was sputtering, the defense was sinking fast, and the sellout crowd of 19,487 was restless.
“The way we started with low energy, it’s my job to go out and find energy,” Barea said. “That’s always been my job.
“When I go out there I like to feel the team believes in me and has confidence in me.”
Barea finished the game with 11 points. And they all came in succession as he buried a pair of free throws, then nailed back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers that nearly blew the roof off AAC and shaved a 10-point deficit down to 54-52 just before halftime.
“Barea definitely gave us a big spark, got the crowd into it (and) got our team into it,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Pretty amazing for a guy that has his credentials that has been sitting out for six straight games, not playing (and) not complaining.
“He did a full workout this morning at the practice facility by himself to keep pushing his conditioning, stepped out there and had an impact just by playing with heart and enthusiasm and took our first charge of the game.”
Dorian Finney-Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. also each took a charge late in the game – both against Aaron Gordon – that helped the Mavs stave off the Magic. But when Seth Curry uncharacteristically misfired on a pair of free throws with seven seconds left and the Mavs clinging to a one-point lead, the Magic still had a chance to sneak out with a victory.
However, a 3-pointer by Nikola Vucevic clanked off the rim as time expired.
Luka Doncic, who finished with 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, was impressed at what the 35-year old Barea was able to accomplish against Orlando.
“It’s amazing to see,” said Doncic, who scored 21 of his points in the second half. “He’s been working hard, playing off to the side.
“I think he won the game for us.”
Doncic, who scored 12 of the 32 points the Mavs tallied in the third quarter, noticed the energy Barea brought to the court.
“When he got in the game, he went out there, (and was) a leader,” Doncic said. “Showed us young guys how it’s done.”
The Mavs fell behind, 20-10, early primarily because they opened the game with seven turnovers and were 2-of-11 from the field. Ball protection aside, Carlisle entered this game worried about his team’s defense.
“I’m more concerned that our defense is 19th or 20th,” he said. “That’s really what my focus is. When we put the roster together, we knew we had a lot of skilled guys.
“But the question was going to be, ‘Hey, how do we turn this into a top 10 defensive team?’ It’s early yet, but to answer your question, I like the offense. There’s obviously good things happening, but it’s early.”
This was the 15th Annual Seats For Soldiers game, where over 100 military members got to sit courtside thanks to Mavs season ticket holders. The Mavs are now 13-2 on Seats or Soldiers night.
“It’s a very special night for a lot of obvious reasons,” Carlisle said. “People on the front row that have in many cases made certain ultimate sacrifices to serve the country and make our country what it is, I talked to the team a little bit about that in the walk through (before the game).
“It’s emotional really when you think about everything that’s in play here. The courtside ticket holders that are giving up their seats, and the soldiers that are coming in, from my understanding, from different parts of the country. I know it’s something that they really look forward to. it’s a very special moment.”
The Mavs’ bench proved to be special again. In addition to Barea, Maxi Kleber (14 points), Hardaway (13 points), and Justin Jackson (11 points, six boards) all came off the bench firing for the Mavs.
Meanwhile, Dwight Powell finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, and Kristaps Porzingis added 10 points and eight boards.
“We’re not there yet offensively,” said Porzingis, who was only 4-of-14 from the field. “A big part of it is I can’t really find a rhythm yet.
“It was an ugly win, but it’s still a win.”
A win helped mightily by Barea, who hadn’t played in a regular season game since undergoing surgery on Jan. 14 to repair his ruptured right Achilles tendon.
“I got the crowd going, so that always helps the team,” Barea said. “It feels amazing. I miss it. It’s been a long time. This is my favorite place to play basketball at — this gym.
“It was an ugly (win). We didn’t play our best. We know we’ve got to play better. So hopefully we’ll put in a good day tomorrow and play way better on Friday.”