Final: Mavs 104, Suns 94

  • This game was, in some ways, kind of the opposite of the Mavs’ defeat at the hands of the Lakers two nights ago. On Monday night, Dallas was the better team in the first half before L.A. cranked up the intensity and took the game with a strong second half. Tonight, meanwhile, the Suns got the better of Dallas in the first half and even early into the third quarter, pulling ahead 55-48 with 9:59 to go.

    But after T.J. Warren’s 3-pointer fell through the net, creating a large cushion in a game in which neither team could really get anything going offensively, something changed. DeAndre Jordan finished a put-back dunk after Josh Jackson rejected his first offering. Then Jordan bodied Suns rookie sensation Deandre Ayton into a difficult fadeaway miss, and Luka Doncic hit a 3-pointer. Doncic hit another 3-pointer on the next possession, and Dallas took the lead for good. The rest of the second half was more of that same thing: Dallas turned stops into easy buckets the other way. The Mavericks limited the Suns to just 36.6 percent shooting after halftime, forced eight turnovers, and blocked two shots. Harrison Barnes was +18 in the third and fourth quarters alone. The Mavs won those frames by a combined score of 58-44. There were a few stellar efforts on offense, but mostly this felt like a game in which the Mavericks dialed up the energy level on the defensive end and it created promising opportunities heading the other way. By keeping turnovers down, relatively speaking, Dallas was able to move the ball and generate clean shots, which certainly helped. Offense and defense are symbiotic, and one cannot function properly without the other holding up its end of the bargain. The second half tonight was a good illustration of that relationship.

  • Luka Doncic finished with 30 points, six rebounds, five assists, and three steals. The only two other teenagers in NBA history to record such a line are LeBron James and Kevin Durant, per Basketball-Reference. That is the most exclusive company you can imagine. Doncic hit four 3-pointers and 10 free throws, scoring in a variety of ways and mixing in a couple more impressive passes, including one out of a double-team to DeAndre Jordan which looked like something we see Chiefs quarterback Pat Mahomes do on the football field.

    Doncic can make some incredibly difficult passes look almost easy. And while I’m sure everyone would love to keep his degree of difficulty down, this felt like the right night to bust out some of his most daring work. Dallas was searching for a passing pick-me-up after handing out just 12 assists against the Lakers, making tonight’s total — 21 dimes on 30 made shots — a strong response. All the more impressive was that the Mavs did this despite the absence of Dennis Smith Jr., who’s currently third on the team in assists per game. Rather than starting Jalen Brunson, Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle opted to turn to Maxi Kleber, leaving Doncic with potentially a heavy load to carry. Any worries were quickly quieted by Wesley Matthews, who delivered a season-high-tying five assists (his most since opening night against Phoenix, coincidentally), and by Harrison Barnes’ season-high-tying three. Anyway, this was Doncic’s fourth 30-point game of the season, moving him ahead of Marquis Daniels into fourth place on the Mavs’ all-time rookie list. Mark Aguirre is up next with five, and Jamal Mashburn sits in second place with seven. First-place Jay Vincent will be tough to top, as he reached the 30-point plateau 15 times during his rookie season in 1981-82.

  • Kleber answered the starting call dutifully, as well, contributing season-high marks in points (13) and rebounds (nine). With DeAndre Jordan primarily occupied with defending Deandre Ayton (and holding him to just six points on 1-of-7 shooting), Kleber was responsible for helping to protect the rim when other players attacked the lane. Each of them blocked two shots, and their work on the inside helped limit Phoenix to just seven offensive rebounds. Kleber’s on-off numbers are extraordinary; the Mavericks have been 11.4 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents in the 654 minutes Kleber has been on the floor, per NBA Stats, which is the highest mark on the team by a mile among regular rotation players. He’s a very good rim protector and is improving not only as a 3-point shooter, but also as an attacker off the dribble. His energy on both ends was much-needed tonight.

  • This game represented the season’s midway point, at which Dallas arrives with a 19-22 record. There have been some frustrating losses, but there have also been some extremely encouraging wins. The halfway point is more symbolic than anything else, but the big takeaway of this season so far, at least from where I sit, is that being on pace for 38 wins after a 24-win season one year ago represents a fairly significant turnaround. After tonight’s game, Carlisle said he was optimistic that the next 41 will be better than the last 41, which means Dallas could perhaps even push closer to 41 wins or even to above .500, thereby possibly throwing the club into the playoff mix. As it stands now, Dallas is three games out of eighth place, but things can change quickly in this conference. It’s one game at a time in this league, and the next one is coming fast.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (19-22) will head north to Minnesota for a game against the Timberwolves on Friday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

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