Final: Wolves 101, Mavs 92
Box Score | Highlights
Behind the Box Score
Talk about swings of momentum in this game. The Wolves built a 21-point lead in the first half, thanks in large part to Karl-Anthony Towns’ red-hot start and the defense for forcing so many turnovers. Dallas gave it away six times in the opening frame, compared to just two Wolves blunders. But in the second quarter, the Mavs committed only four giveaways but forced seven. Every extra possession you can generate helps, and when you can stack two or three empty possessions in a row, then mix in a few buckets, suddenly a 21-point deficit becomes 14, then eight, then six, and then the opponent begins to feel a bit of doubt. Turnovers are game-changing plays, and the Mavs forced them in bunches tonight.
The Wolves came into this game 28th in the NBA in fourth-quarter net rating, at -8.2 points per 100 possessions. Minnesota had lost 12 times this season when building a double-digit lead. Sometimes it takes younger teams some time to learn how to protect big leads and win games. The Mavs went through this earlier this season, particularly when Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams, the team’s closers last season, were both out with injury. Closing games is certainly a skill that must be developed over time.
The Mavs fell down 46-25 in this game, which put them behind the 8-ball rather early on. But a combination of defensive intensity and some hot shooting brought the Mavs to as close as 81-77 in the fourth quarter, but then the Wolves bounced back to reclaim a double-digit lead. On one hand, it was encouraging that the club showed the resolve to get back into a game like this one on the road, especially given the nature of the two most recent losses, when games got out of hand in the second half. On the other, however, the Mavs are in a situation where they’ve got to string together a few wins in order to remain within striking distance of the eighth seed in the West. Coming into tonight, Dallas was just four games out of the last spot, and you can bet Dirk Nowitzki & Co. would rather be competing in the postseason than watching from home. That’s been the goal for this team all season long, but if they want to achieve that goal, the wins have got to come. Dallas will secure those wins by playing more like they did beginning halfway through the second quarter — with spirit on the defensive end and in rhythm on offense.
Harrison Barnes had one of his finer performances as a Maverick, particularly in the middle quarters, which is something we’ve been saying a lot lately. The fifth-year pro scored 30 points in this one, but what stood out most about this outing was his brilliance from beyond the arc. Barnes hasn’t had gaudy 3-point numbers this season, although earlier in his career he was more than an able shooter from deep. Tonight he hit four long-range shots in five attempts. Lately, it seems like Barnes has been stepping into his 3-pointers with more decisiveness and confidence; there’s no hesitation. That can do wonders for a player’s shot. Rick Carlisle talks about stepping into shots with confidence all the time, and there’s definitely something to that. Combine his uptick in 3-point shooting numbers with his already-sound mid-range game, athleticism around the rim, and increasing free throw rate, and suddenly Barnes is looking like the type of guy who has the chance to become a big, big-time scorer in this league for some time.
Dirk Nowitzki exploded in the second quarter, hitting three consecutive 3-pointers toward the end of the frame to cap off a fierce Mavs comeback before the break. It was an evening of impressive offensive performances, but nothing quite can compare to watching the German catch fire from beyond the arc. Here’s the first of his three during that stretch.
Tom Thibodeau’s Wolves play the “ice” defense, which forces pick-and-rolls toward the sideline and away from the middle of the floor. The solution against the scheme is to have the screener pop atop the arc and take the open jump shot. There’s no doubt Nowitzki can do that, of course. He finished the game with a season-high 26 points, his most in a game since dropping 40 in a win against the Blazers last March. It was also the first time he and Barnes both scored 20 in the same game this season. If these two can consistently be big-time producers for this team, the Mavs could turn it around.
The Mavs (11-27) play the Phoenix Suns (12-26) on Thursday at Mexico City Arena at 9 p.m. Central.