Mavs defense plays historically well in 86-75 win vs. Milwaukee

They’ve said it basically ever since the end of last season: If the Mavs are going to win games, they’re going to do it with defense.

And Sunday night we finally saw what they meant.

Dallas limited Milwaukee to just 75 points in an overtime game, the fewest the team has allowed in a game that goes to extra time in franchise history. The Bucks scored just one point in overtime, also a Mavericks franchise record.

“We just got stops,” said Harrison Barnes, who scored a career-high 34 points as well. “Everyone across the board — Justin, Wes, J.J., Dorian and Bogut. We just had everyone coming in and helping us get stops. I think that really is what allowed us to just grind away.”

Simply put, the Mavericks turned last night’s contest into a halfcourt affair. The Bucks have the athletes to push the tempo and play back-and-forth basketball, but Dallas did not allow them to. Of Milwaukee’s 100 possessions, just 10 of them came in transition, per Mavs analytics. And on the Bucks’ 90 halfcourt possessions, they scored just 63 points, or 0.70 points per possession. For the game, Dallas’ 71.2 defensive rating was a single-game best since a November 2014 win against Philadelphia.

“We had a plan, we stuck to it, and then we got down early,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “But we stayed the course, we stuck to it, and we wanted to make these guys have to beat us in the halfcourt. These games get very physical and a little ugly, because it’s hard to get shots. But in our situation right now, this is what we’ve got to do to give ourselves a win.”

There’s a precedent in place for the Mavs to find success in these grind-it-out kinds of games. Dallas was 22-8 last season in games played at a pace of 95.0 possessions per 48 minutes or slower, per NBA Stats, and last night’s tilt was played at a crawling 92.63 poss/48, the second-slowest game of the Mavs’ season.

The Mavericks believe their halfcourt defense is stout enough to withstand almost any opponent, and their defensive numbers in those situations have been on the upswing as of late. Dallas now has the 13th-best defense in terms of efficiency in the halfcourt, according to Synergy Sports, at 0.895 points per possession allowed. Meanwhile, the Mavs rank 28th in transition defense. It’s vital that this team dictates the tempo.

One source of the team’s success last night was rookie Dorian Finney-Smith, who played more than 31 minutes in what was essentially his NBA debut. Before Sunday, the 23-year-old had zero points and one rebound to his name, but by the end of the contest he forced Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo into an off-balance fallaway to win the game in regulation.

Maybe the Greek Freak was going to take a step-back all along. Or maybe Finney-Smith forced him into a shot he didn’t want to take, simply by staying patient. “Just keep the ball in front of me, don’t foul, and contest the shot,” the Mavs rookie said after the game, walking through his thought process on that final play. “I did a great job, he missed the shot, and it forced overtime.”

All together the Mavericks allowed just 53.2 points per 100 possessions when Finney-Smith played on Sunday, per NBA Stats. And this came in his first meaningful minutes as a pro. Not bad for a first impression.

Another was center Andrew Bogut, who put together his most effective performance as a Maverick, scoring just two points but grabbing 16 rebounds and drawing two charges. Through Sunday’s games, no one in the NBA had drawn more charges than the first-year Maverick.

“I think that discourages them, takes them out from what they want to do,” Bogut said. “And if we can clog the lane up and just make things tough defensively, it’s kind of like a pinball effect, where every time they come in the lane they get hit by someone, contested at the rim, or someone’s taking a charge. It gets annoying to play against a team like that after a while.”

Charges also result in a turnover, and Dallas forced plenty of those on Sunday. Milwaukee gave it away 27 times, tied for the most by a Mavs opponent since March 2004. The club is 16-4 when forcing at least 20 turnovers since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, per Basketball-Reference.

If the Mavericks continue defending the way they did against the Bucks, they’ll quickly become a very annoying opponent. And that’s exactly what they want to be.

Welcome to the NBA: From 15th man to fourth-quarter stopper, Dorian Finney-Smith had a heck of a week

Postgame: Dorian Finney-Smith

Mavs F Dorian Finney-Smith dishes on his clutch defense in Sunday night's win over the Bucks.

Just 72 hours ago, it didn’t seem like Dorian Finney-Smith would even soon see the floor, let alone play 32 minutes in a Mavs win. But, as the rookie learned, a lot can change in not much time in the world of professional basketball.

Just how much has changed? Between Thursday afternoon and Sunday night, the Mavs would lose not only a game to Portland, but also superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki for at least a week, due to a sore Achilles. In his stead, Justin Anderson was elevated to a starter. Fast forward to the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against Milwaukee, and it was Finney-Smith guarding the Bucks’ rising star Giannis Antetokounmpo with under 10 seconds left in a tie game.

Finney-Smith went from undrafted rookie, the 15th man, and relative unknown to the Mavs fan base to the rare winner of a game ball, gifted to him by head coach Rick Carlisle after an 86-75 triumph.

“It’s moving kind of fast right now,” Finney-Smith told Mavs.com on Thursday in what would prove to be quite the understatement, 72 hours before things would move even faster. “I’m just trying to learn. I’ve got a bunch of veteran guys on the team, and I’m a rookie, so I’m just trying to be Jello and just absorb all the information that comes from these guys.”

Finney-Smith entered Sunday’s game with just four minutes of NBA experience under his belt in four appearances, having never taken a single shot. When he entered the game with 11:23 remaining in the second quarter and the Mavs down 11, he had one rebound to his name.

But in his 31:44 of playing time, the Mavericks allowed just 53.2 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. The Bucks shot just 26.1 percent, including 3 of 21 from beyond the arc, and turned the ball over 19 times. Finney-Smith had a game-high plus-minus of +19 and contested a game-high 12 shots.

“Other guys are doing it, too,” Carlisle said of the rookie’s defensive play, “but it’s not a coincidence that the game changed on some level when he was out there. He was big.”

The game changed so much, in fact, that once Finney-Smith returned to the game with 36 seconds remaining in regulation, he wouldn’t leave it again. In addition to defending Antetokounmpo on the last possession, he recorded two steals in overtime. Including the extra period, the rookie played 20:21 after halftime.

“It felt good to know that (Carlisle) trusts me enough to play me down the stretch, to get stops,” he said after the game. “That’s what I like to do. I like to play defense. And he put me in when it mattered, and it just feels like he’s got a little trust in me after tonight.”

Turning back the clock even before Thursday afternoon, Finney-Smith was likely the final Maverick to earn a spot on the 15-man roster. Despite receiving a chunk of guaranteed money on the contract he signed this summer, there was a stiff competition between Finney-Smith and a few other players. When the 23-year-old found out he clinched that final spot, he said he marked the achievement by waking up the next day at 7 a.m. and getting to work.

“I knew the workload was really going to pick up, knowing that I made the team, so I couldn’t really celebrate too much,” he told Mavs.com. “Even though I made the team, now I want to get on the court. It doesn’t just stop here. I want to maximize my time.”

Of course, just a few days later, he’d receive the opportunity to play, and he’d earn the right to keep it, at least for one night.

Now the question becomes what he can do for the Mavs in the scope of this season. Obviously once Nowitzki returns, there will naturally be less minutes up for grabs. But Finney-Smith has demonstrated he can defend both on the wing and on the interior, he can rebound well, and his jumper notably improved over the summer and into training camp, as he removed a hitch and smoothed things out. He’s got a great frame, too, catching the eye of his teammate Andrew Bogut.

“He doesn’t know how good he can be in this league,” Bogut said after the win against the Bucks. “For a young fella, he’s still finding himself and his identity and how he fits in. But he’s got the body of an NBA player. If you build an NBA player, you’d probably give him that body. He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s lean, he can get up and down the floor.”

Finney-Smith might be a dream physical specimen, but so are his teammates Justin Anderson and Harrison Barnes, who scored a career-high 34 points on Sunday night. In addition to Nowitzki and Wesley Matthews, the perimeter minutes are going to be awfully hard to come by for the rookie. Carlisle is not a coach who historically gives rookies much of a leash, as evidenced by his quick pull of Nicolas Brussino in Sunday’s game. (He was replaced by Finney-Smith.)

That likely is not music to Finney-Smith’s ears, but it only reinforces the attitude he’s played the game with for his entire life.

“I never took a shortcut,” he told Mavs.com. “I’ve always worked my way through everything. And to be in this opportunity, to be on an NBA roster and learn from the the best and play with the best, I’m just blessed to be here.”

Dorian Finney-Smith brings more length, versatility to the Mavs

One-On-One with Dorian Finney-Smith

Newly signed Maverick Dorian Finney-Smith goes one-on-one with Mavs.com's Earl K. Sneed after Saturday's shootaround in Las Vegas.

Dorian Finney-Smith is a long wing who can defend, shoot 3s, and make plays in the air.

Sound familiar? It should.

The Mavericks officially signed Finney-Smith on Friday before the team left for Las Vegas where he and his teammates will play in the Summer League. This is the second consecutive summer in which Dallas added a young, “3-and-D” type of player, following up the addition of Justin Anderson via the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft. The Mavs also signed Wesley Matthews in free agency last season, giving the club even more shooting and even more defense.

The NBA is getting longer and more athletic, and the game is being played farther and farther from the rim. Rosters must be stacked top-to-bottom with players who can defend multiple positions and who can be an outside threat on the offensive side of the ball. Finney-Smith absolutely qualifies in that regard.

While he and Anderson are not the same exact kind of player — Anderson is more of a 2-guard or 3, while Finney-Smith will play 3 and possibly even 4 in the NBA — their measurables are similar. Both have 6-foot, 11.75-inch wingspans, both can jump through the ceiling, and both shot the 3-ball very well in college — Anderson connected on 45.2 percent of his long-range attempts his final year at Virginia, while Finney-Smith shot 42.6 percent as a junior and 36.6 as a senior at Florida. Athleticism and shooting tend to translate over to the NBA, and the Mavericks will be counting on both players to bring both to the table this season.

Those two players, along with Matthews and Harrison Barnes, make up a stable of wing players in Dallas all capable of defending as many as three different positions. We saw Matthews defend point guards and power forwards in the same game last season, and Barnes is capable of defending post players like Zach Randolph. Anderson and Finney-Smith, meanwhile, are long enough to guard 4s and quick enough to potentially defend shooting guards. That’s the type of team-wide versatility it takes to defend teams like Golden State and Cleveland, which feature players at multiple positions capable of running and creating offense.

Finney-Smith certainly fits somewhere into the Mavs’ defensive picture as the club continues its effort to get younger, faster, and more athletic. Size and length have always won in this league, but speed is now more important than ever, particularly on the defensive side of things. Length and speed can cover up rotation mistakes and it can erase size mismatches. If those versatile defenders can also shoot the ball on the offensive end, it’s even better. Hence, 3-and-D. And that’s where the Mavericks are focusing more so now than they have any time in recent memory, or perhaps ever.

It’s important to remember, though, that just because the rookie has a contract does not give him license to take it easy in Las Vegas. The Mavs have high hopes for him, which breeds equally high expectations. He’ll have to perform well in Summer League and in training camp to earn the trust of Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle, who expects his guys to play with a high level of awareness, maturity, and composure during every game, whether it’s exhibition in July or the Finals in June.

Anderson went through that same process with his head coach last season, and he understands what it takes to handle a rookie season in the league. Regarding advice for A.J. Hammons, the Mavs’ newly signed second-round draft pick, Anderson preached patience as key.

“Whether it’s the league, whether it’s the D-League, whether it’s not playing, whether it’s playing 40 minutes a game, just trust the process and continue to enjoy each day in the NBA, because ultimately we’re finally where we dreamed of being,” he told Mavs.com last week.

That advice will now apply for his new teammate — and partner on the perimeter — Finney-Smith. Fortunately, the Florida grad understands his role, much as Anderson did heading into his rookie season.

“I play both sides of the ball, I can guard a lot of positions, and I do all the little things to contribute to winning,” Finney-Smith told Mavs.com’s Earl K. Sneed in the above video. “I know who I am and I’m gonna try to bring the energy to the game.”

If he can bring that energy to the floor every time he steps into the game, he’ll have no problem carving out a role sooner or later. And alongside Anderson, Matthews, and Barnes, the Mavs will have no problem controlling and patrolling the perimeter when the season begins.

Mavericks sign forward Dorian Finney-Smith

DALLAS – The Dallas Mavericks announced today that they have signed free agent forward Dorian Finney-Smith. Per team policy, terms of the deals were not disclosed.

Finney-Smith (6-8, 220) signs with Dallas after going undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft. He played his final three collegiate seasons at Florida after transferring from Virginia Tech following his freshman year. In 134 career collegiate games, he averaged 10.7 points and 7.1 rebounds in 28.6 minutes per game.

Finney-Smith led the Gators in rebounding in all three of his seasons at Florida (2013-16) and he led the team in scoring in each of his final two (2014-16). His 1,220 points at Florida rank 36th in school history. What’s more, he became the first Florida player to join the 1,000-point club after transferring to the school.

As a senior in 2015-16, Finney-Smith averaged 14.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 31.8 minutes in 36 games en route to being named Second Team All-SEC by the coaches and Third Team All-SEC by the Associated Press.

The Portsmouth, Va., native will compete for the Mavericks on their 2016 Samsung NBA Summer League team, which begins play July 9 in Las Vegas.