Final: Mavs 90, Clippers 88
Box Score | Highlights
Behind the Box Score
More on Dirk later, but here’s an interesting note: Before tonight, he’d never played 15 minutes or less in a game while also scoring at least 17 points, per Basketball-Reference. Even in his 19th season, he’s still doing things he’s never done before. That’s a 42-point pace across 36 minutes.
The Mavs’ offense hummed to the tune of 1.208 points per possession in the second quarter, an exceptionally efficient rate given the team’s six turnovers in the frame. Generally, that many turnovers leads to less-efficient offense on a per-possession basis, but the defense was able to force just as many Clippers giveaways, and that led to very easy offense the other way. (That, and Dirk caught fire.) Dallas remains the best team in the NBA at forcing turnovers, and that trait was once again on display tonight. Just take Seth Curry’s rip steal from DeAndre Jordan in the last minute of the game as an example. The Mavs turned a would-be sure Clippers dunk into a live-ball turnover and two quick points the other way.
Dallas finished with a season-high 14 offensive rebounds.
Dirk Nowitzki made his long-awaited return to the lineup tonight, after missing the previous 14 contests with a sore left Achilles. The German’s first field goal attempt splashed home from 20 feet, and even Clippers fans gave him a loud cheer. Later that same frame, he pump-faked former teammate Raymond Felton into the air and finished a pull-up 18-footer. The 19-year vet started the game at center, with the usual starters 1-4 remaining intact. It will be interesting to see if that’s the Mavs’ strategy moving forward, as well, or if he’ll eventually return to the power forward position. It could be a matchup-dependent decision for head coach Rick Carlisle, but time will tell. Dirk and the Mavs don’t play again until Monday, which should give the league’s sixth all-time leading scorer plenty of time to rest his body and hopefully continue to feel little to no pain over the holidays. Nowitzki finished with 17 points and four boards. Basically, this tweet from the NBA perfectly sums up how great it was to see him back.
The third quarter was an interesting watch, as it gave us a glimpse back toward the Mavs without Dirk, after watching him act as the offensive focal point in the first half. Harrison Barnes has pretty seamlessly replaced him in some sets, relatively speaking, but it was interesting to see that play out in the third. He was really good in the frame, especially toward the end of the quarter, when he scored back-to-back buckets. As Nowitzki’s minutes restriction continues, it will be important to follow when he plays. Is it mostly in the first half? Is it evenly split between the first and second halves? What kind of in-game adjustments, if any, will the team make when he’s in versus when he’s out? One thing’s for sure, though: If Nowitzki and Barnes both continue to shoot it well, and if they continue to get solid support everyone else on the team, I don’t think the Mavs will mind.
The Mavs’ “recovery boutique,” as Rick Carlisle calls it these days, was alive and well in this one. Not only did Dirk reach his minutes limit, but J.J. Barea and Andrew Bogut weren’t in L.A. for the game, after flying home from the trip early. Devin Harris, meanwhile, left the game in the first half with a right eye injury and didn’t return, after appearing to be poked in the eye by the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford. Carlisle said before the game Barea will be considered day-to-day moving forward, which means we could potentially see him back as early as Monday against the Pelicans. But, as always, it’s a fluid situation.
The Mavs (9-21) play the New Orleans Pelicans (10-21) on Monday at the Smoothie King Center at 7 p.m. Central.