Final: Mavs 98, Raptors 93
Box Score | Highlights
Behind the Box Score
In the game of basketball, the paint is precious real estate. If you can claim it as the offense, you will profit. Likewise, if you control it as a defense, you will live comfortably. The Mavericks did about as good a job as you can on both ends of the floor owning that valuable property. Offensively, Dallas got the ball into the paint on 20 of its 25 possessions, per team analytics, which might be a team-high mark in the three seasons I’ve had access to that information. The club turned those 20 trips into 25 points, which is a very good clip. Meanwhile, the Mavs limited the Raptors to just 16 trips to the paint on defense and held them to only 14 points in those situations, or 0.88 points per possession. The Mavs won the first quarter 31-23. This game usually isn’t as simple as who’s better in the paint, but in the first quarter it was. As the game wore on, things normalized a bit — the Mavs weren’t able to get into the paint as often and the Raptors were more productive during their trips. That’s almost to be expected in a league of adjustments.
This was quite the game of runs. The Raptors went on 8-0 and 9-0 sprints in the second quarter and used an extended 17-8 run to tie it up just before halftime. But Dallas took the prize for biggest run of the game, using a 17-0 outburst in the third quarter to go up 83-73 before taking an 85-77 lead into the fourth quarter.
Maxi Kleber tied his career-high with five blocks.
After leading the NBA in drawn charges last season and finishing third the season before, the Mavs had been averaging just 0.69 charges drawn per game heading into this one, per NBA Stats, good for just 15th. But Maxi Kleber and Devin Harris each drew one tonight. (Yes, they track charges. They track everything these days!)
Before tonight, Dallas was just 1-18 in games when the score was within five points inside the final five minutes of regulation or overtime, per NBA Stats. That is an absurd record to have in situations where in many cases the result of the game is a proverbial coin toss — a combination of bad luck and late mistakes. But they got it done tonight.
Maxi Kleber had one of the better games of his NBA career tonight. He made a lot of plays that showed up in the box score, but he made plenty of others that didn’t too. In my opinion Kleber has become one of the team’s best help defenders, particularly among the big men, and he isn’t afraid to mix it up when going for a rebound or contesting a shot. He also does all this stuff usually without putting himself at risk of committing a foul, which can stack up on you very quickly, especially when playing against starters.
One tangible way Kleber has improved of late is as a roll man. Before this game he ranked in the 27th percentile league-wide as a roller, per Synergy Sports. He scored a handful of points off lobs in their previous game against Atlanta, too, so I shudder to think of where he was at before then. He hasn’t used many possessions in those situations, of course, and several of them before tonight were as a pop man when you’re less likely to score efficiently because a dunk is easier than a jump shot. Regardless, all of a sudden Kleber has turned into a fearsome rim-runner capable of throwing down lobs.
Before the game Rick Carlisle said that as Kleber continues to do more, his job is going to get tougher because opposing teams will soon begin to not only take notice of his productivity, but also take action to limit it. The good thing as far as that’s concerned is Dallas doesn’t actually run any plays for him, yet he still finds ways to score; therefore, he’s tough to hone in on without ignoring the guy who’s supposed to be shooting. That’s going to be an interesting thing to watch as time goes on.
Dirk likes him, too.
The driving force behind the Mavs’ 31-point first quarter was Dennis Smith Jr. Carlisle acknowledged before the game that since returning from injury three games ago it’s sometimes taken the rookie some time to take command of the offense the way he needs to in the early going, which has played a part in the team’s slow starts in games. That was not the case in this one, as Smith attacked the paint early and often.
Probably the most intriguing play the 20-year-old made came at the very end of the quarter coming off a high screen from Dirk Nowitzki.
This play puts opposing big man Jakob Poeltl in the unenviable position of having to choose between trying to defend a downhill Smith 30 feet from the rim or just abandoning ship to guard a guy with 30,000 career points. He rightly chose to try checking the rookie, but Smith is simply too fast for most big men to keep up with in that much open space. Ideally opposing big men will drop way below that screen to keep Smith away from the rim, but that’s the benefit of having a shooter set screens. When the play takes place that high on the floor, as the defending big you simply have to step out to defend otherwise you run the risk of Nowitzki getting a wide-open 3. I wonder if the Mavs will run more high screens for Smith in the middle of the floor like that in the future, especially when he’s playing with Dirk. If the objective is to get him in the paint as much as possible, that’s one surefire way to make it happen.
To put the job Wesley Matthews did against DeMar DeRozan into context, DeRozan was averaging 31.8 points per game in his last six games and had scored fewer than 20 points just once in the last month. Tonight, DeRozan scored just eight points on 3-of-16 shooting. This was the first time in his 627-game career that he scored fewer than 10 points on more than 15 shots. Bravo, @WessyWes23.
The Mavs (10-25) will play the Indiana Pacers (19-14) on Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse at 6 p.m. Central.