Final: Mavs 103, Bulls 98
Where would the Mavericks be without their bench? J.J. Barea was a +21 tonight in a game Dallas won by just five points. Devin Harris was +19 in 18 minutes. Maxi Kleber scored 10 points and blocked two shots in just 16 minutes. Typically your bench is full of unsung heroes, but plenty of songs are sung about these guys. Barea will certainly go down in Mavs lore — he put up a 14-5-5 line on the same night that he passed Shawn Bradley for seventh place on the franchise’s career games played list, and it’s likely that he’ll pass Jason Terry and Michael Finley by the end of the season as well. It is truly remarkable that nearly night after night those guys are able to come in and launch runs. Seven of the Mavs’ top-eight lineups in terms of raw plus-minus include Barea, and that one that doesn’t includes Dennis Smith Jr. in his place alongside four reserves. It’s crazy. Those guys are good.
This was Harrison Barnes’ “loudest” game of the season, as he dropped a season-high 23 points on 16 shots, adding eight made free throws in nine attempts. Barnes has scored more from beyond the arc this season than in the last couple years, but tonight he was in full technician mode, primarily operating in the mid-range and in the post, where he was able to earn most of his trips to the charity stripe. On nights when your pick-and-roll isn’t going and the rest of the starting lineup offense is generally clunky, sometimes it’s good to go back to the ol’ bread and butter. Barnes punishing switches is not a new development; the Mavs relied on it for all of two seasons before acquiring Doncic and pushing the pace. Most promisingly, though, Barnes was able to score his final two points right at the rim, out of a pick-and-roll.
Barnes essentially missed a month’s worth of training camp, preseason, and the regular season, and appears to be rounding back into shape in the last week or so. Tonight was a step in the right direction on his climb back to consistency. His next couple tests will be much tougher, coming against the Jazz and Warriors. But without him tonight, Dallas does not win.
This was a relatively quiet night for Luka Doncic, who only finished with 11 points, six rebounds, and three assists on 3-of-12 shooting. Not every game will be heroic for the 19-year-old (which is to be expected), and especially not just two days after tweaking his knee when going for a loose ball against OKC. Perhaps that hampered him, or maybe it didn’t, but either way Doncic got off to a slow start and was really never able to kick it into high gear, at least until he hit what ultimately proved to be a bit of a dagger.
That’s a deep, deep 3-ball and it was a huge shot in the course of the game. It takes guts to put up a shot like that when you’ve only made a couple before it.
Elsewhere in crunch-time theatrics, Dennis Smith Jr. made an even better dribble move to free himself up for a baseline jumper on the previous possession.
Smith hit both of his shots in the final frame, and he and Doncic combined for eight points on four shots. On a night when Barnes did much of the heavy lifting scoring-wise and the bench was honestly the reason Dallas even had a chance to win this thing at the end, it was Doncic and Smith who helped carry the club across the finish line. The best players are still able to get you late, even if they didn’t get you early. The next step is for these two to maintain that level of performance throughout an entire game. If they can go back-and-forth like this, taking turns and sinking daggers, the Mavs could be a crunch-time monster for years to come.
The Mavericks tonight began a span of six out of seven games against opponents who play at a slower pace than Dallas. (Pace measures possessions per 48 minutes.) The Mavs have ranked bottom-five in the league in pace each of the past two years, so it’s pretty remarkable that this is a true stat. To be clear, there’s little to no correlation between playing faster and winning; for example, Atlanta (3-10) plays at the fastest pace, while Memphis (7-4) plays the slowest. But Dallas has very clearly changed its tune this season, transitioning from a slow team to a currently league-average one. It’s likely, given that so many upcoming opponents play slowly, that the club’s pace will drop below average at the end of this stretch. The Mavs are very good at early offense, whether they’re in transition or simply creating a good look early in the clock. Dallas has the fifth-highest effective field goal percentage on shots coming with between 22-18 seconds left on the shot clock, and while their eFG% is only league-average (52.3 percent) with between 18-15 seconds left, they attempt the 10th-highest volume of such shots. Dallas is taking lots of early shots, which is always good. The trick, of course, is playing fast on offense while still grinding on the defensive end. And, facing an upcoming stretch of opponents that includes the Jazz, Warriors, Celtics, and Rockets, defensive discipline will be paramount.
The Mavs (5-8) come home to play the Jazz for the third time already this season on Wednesday. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.