Final: Mavs 105, Thunder 103
When Paul George sank a 3-pointer to put Oklahoma City up 101-95 with just 1:59 to go, it felt like this game had slipped right out of the Mavs’ hands. Dallas led for double-digits through most of the third quarter and into the fourth, but a massive bench-led Thunder surge carried over into crunch time and came to a crescendo when George’s second straight long-ball tickled the twine. At that point, according to ESPN’s win probability, Dallas had just a 9.9 percent chance to win. That makes this one of the unlikeliest Mavericks wins in many years. This is still a young team, especially in the backcourt, so wins like this are extremely important. As head coach Rick Carlisle said after the game, all young players – and Dennis Smith Jr. in particular – have to learn how to win, learn how to lose, and learn “how to hate losing more than they like winning.” Somehow, some way, the Mavs found it within themselves to win this game despite overwhelming odds and an absolute masterpiece from Paul George. Defense carried the day, especially late, so credit to Smith and the Mavericks for taking the fight back to OKC and pulling this one out the hard way.
It was especially heartening to see Smith play the role of difference-maker late after the disappointing final play in New Orleans left a sour taste in his mouth two nights before. Tonight, Smith found himself with the ball in the middle of a broken play and, instead of slowing down and trying to set something up, made an aggressive drive to the basket and finished a layup to put Dallas in front. In this game in particular, it would almost make sense if his instincts told him to pull the ball out and find a teammate, given what happened in New Orleans. But Smith was not deterred.
After the bucket, he wound up being switched on to the red-hot George on the ensuing defensive possession, and he played some excellent one-on-one defense in isolation to force George into a contested mid-range jumper. He was in a very unenviable position, on an island against a much taller player to whom the rim looked as big as an ocean. But, again, he attacked the opportunity and made a play. That was such a positive stretch for the 21-year-old.
In his last eight games, Luka Doncic is averaging 25.6 points, 7.1 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game, hitting 46 percent of his field goals, 39 percent of his 3s, and 71 percent of his 10.1 free throw attempts per game. There’s not much more to say, other than he’s in some kind of groove right now. He was guarded by Paul George tonight, one of the very best defenders in the entire league. George appeared to make everything pretty difficult for the Mavs rookie, but nevertheless Doncic was able to get to the rim a few times against George, and he hit a few 3s when switched against other players. To open the third quarter, he assisted on three 3-pointers and then hit one himself to cap off a 12-0 Mavs run. This is the new normal. We continue to be spoiled.
Two things in this game were pretty extraordinary. First, Dallas limited OKC to just seven offensive rebounds and maintained an 85.1 defensive rebound percentage, which is astonishingly good; the Thunder grab a league-leading 31.5 percent of available offensive rebounds, but Dallas limited them to just 14.9 percent tonight. That was a huge factor in such a tight game. In fact, the Mavericks outscored the Thunder in second-chance points, 11-8.
Next, the Thunder racked up 31 fast break points against the Mavs’ four, and it was 31-0 before a couple late Dallas buckets on the break, which included a thunderous DeAndre Jordan flush.
It’s very rare to win a game in which you’re outscored 31-4 on the fast break, and when you commit 12 more turnovers than your opponent. Then again, it’s much easier to win games when you grab 85 percent of potential defensive rebounds. It’s rare to see extreme performances like these independent of one another, but it’s almost unheard-of to see these two things happen in the same game. Rick Carlisle said there are more “events,” as he calls them, in games against OKC than perhaps against any other opponent because of the Thunder’s length and activity level on defense. After tonight, I would have to agree.
The Mavs (17-18) are already in Oklahoma City for the back end of a home-and-home on Sunday night against the Thunder. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.