Final: Mavs 98, Pacers 94
Box Score | Highlights
Behind the Box Score
We knew the German big men had a strong bond by heritage, but it turns out they’ve also got pretty serious synergy on the floor, too. During one stretch in the third quarter, Maxi Kleber assisted Dirk Nowitzki, then the next time down Dirk got him back. Heading into this one, Kleber had been shooting 80.0 percent after passes from Nowitzki, per NBA Stats, and Nowitzki was shooting 66.7 percent on passes from Kleber. Germany has been good to this team.
Nowitzki has now scored at least 15 points in each of his last four games, his longest streak since doing so 11 straight times from March 1-23, 2016.
Crunch-time problems have become the story of the season for the Mavericks, but these last two nights they’ve closed games out. Dallas used a 10-0 run late in this one to take a lead and then closed the door with a string of defensive stops, some good stuff from Dennis Smith Jr., and a couple free throws. The Mavs were 1-18 in clutch games before yesterday. It’s hard to exaggerate how insane that is. It’s good to see things beginning to turn around for the Mavericks — and they did it in the clutch tonight without the safety valve that is Dirk Nowitzki. It should be noted that the Pacers were without their best player in Victor Oladipo, but credit the Mavs for still making things difficult for the players they did have tonight, especially late. Dallas did it with defense and then by pushing the ball the other way. They say everything they do begins with defense, and tonight the proof was in the pudding. We’ll see if this can catapult them to more better performances late in close games the rest of the season.
One important area of Dennis Smith Jr.’s development that doesn’t really get talked about much is learning to play without the ball. He’s a point guard so he’s obviously going to have the ball in his hands a lot of the time, but ideally you’ll always have one or two other guys out there who can also handle it, too. As we all know, there’s only one ball, so in order to be effective even when his number isn’t being called, Smith will need to develop some off-the-ball skills. What does that mean? What are some examples? The first thing is learning to find open space as a shooter and knocking down open jumpers when they come your way. So far this season Smith has done a pretty good job in that role, hitting 35.2 percent of catch-and-shoot 3s per NBA Stats.
Not only is it impractical to have just one guy who can handle it, but it also puts tremendous physical pressure on Smith to have to be the guy creating every single time down the floor. That’s one way playing alongside J.J. Barea for stretches here and there could be beneficial to Smith’s growth as a player. Barea is masterful at getting into the paint, which means Smith could often find himself open from outside. There’s no rep like a game rep, so it’s nice to see Smith taking advantage of those shots when he can find them.
Dallas has been a little more explosive on the fast break in the last two games. Last night the memorable moment on the break came when Yogi Ferrell ran the length of the floor in the closing moments of the first half and hit Maxi Kleber with a lob pass. Tonight’s Cool Transition Moment of the Game was a Barea oop to Smith, which you could see coming from a ways away.
Smith added a couple buckets on the break late in the fourth quarter, too, including a layup with 25.2 seconds left to put them up three points. The Mavericks aren’t a very big running team — they ranked just 27th in the league in fast break points per game heading into this one — but they’ve now scored above their average in back-to-back games, a trend that partly coincides with Smith’s return to a full minutes load. It’s much easier to run the floor when you’ve got an athlete like him in your camp. It’s easier to score in transition than against a set defense, but in recent years Dallas has enjoyed creating mismatches in the secondary break and exploiting those in a halfcourt setting. I wonder if as time goes on the addition of Smith will lead to more moments like this.
The Mavs (11-25) will play the New Orleans Pelicans (17-16) on Friday at Smoothie King Center at 7 p.m. Central.