Postgame: Dorian Finney-Smith

Mavs F Dorian Finney-Smith dishes on his clutch defense in Sunday night's win over the Bucks.

Just 72 hours ago, it didn’t seem like Dorian Finney-Smith would even soon see the floor, let alone play 32 minutes in a Mavs win. But, as the rookie learned, a lot can change in not much time in the world of professional basketball.

Just how much has changed? Between Thursday afternoon and Sunday night, the Mavs would lose not only a game to Portland, but also superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki for at least a week, due to a sore Achilles. In his stead, Justin Anderson was elevated to a starter. Fast forward to the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against Milwaukee, and it was Finney-Smith guarding the Bucks’ rising star Giannis Antetokounmpo with under 10 seconds left in a tie game.

Finney-Smith went from undrafted rookie, the 15th man, and relative unknown to the Mavs fan base to the rare winner of a game ball, gifted to him by head coach Rick Carlisle after an 86-75 triumph.

“It’s moving kind of fast right now,” Finney-Smith told Mavs.com on Thursday in what would prove to be quite the understatement, 72 hours before things would move even faster. “I’m just trying to learn. I’ve got a bunch of veteran guys on the team, and I’m a rookie, so I’m just trying to be Jello and just absorb all the information that comes from these guys.”

Finney-Smith entered Sunday’s game with just four minutes of NBA experience under his belt in four appearances, having never taken a single shot. When he entered the game with 11:23 remaining in the second quarter and the Mavs down 11, he had one rebound to his name.

But in his 31:44 of playing time, the Mavericks allowed just 53.2 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. The Bucks shot just 26.1 percent, including 3 of 21 from beyond the arc, and turned the ball over 19 times. Finney-Smith had a game-high plus-minus of +19 and contested a game-high 12 shots.

“Other guys are doing it, too,” Carlisle said of the rookie’s defensive play, “but it’s not a coincidence that the game changed on some level when he was out there. He was big.”

The game changed so much, in fact, that once Finney-Smith returned to the game with 36 seconds remaining in regulation, he wouldn’t leave it again. In addition to defending Antetokounmpo on the last possession, he recorded two steals in overtime. Including the extra period, the rookie played 20:21 after halftime.

“It felt good to know that (Carlisle) trusts me enough to play me down the stretch, to get stops,” he said after the game. “That’s what I like to do. I like to play defense. And he put me in when it mattered, and it just feels like he’s got a little trust in me after tonight.”

Turning back the clock even before Thursday afternoon, Finney-Smith was likely the final Maverick to earn a spot on the 15-man roster. Despite receiving a chunk of guaranteed money on the contract he signed this summer, there was a stiff competition between Finney-Smith and a few other players. When the 23-year-old found out he clinched that final spot, he said he marked the achievement by waking up the next day at 7 a.m. and getting to work.

“I knew the workload was really going to pick up, knowing that I made the team, so I couldn’t really celebrate too much,” he told Mavs.com. “Even though I made the team, now I want to get on the court. It doesn’t just stop here. I want to maximize my time.”

Of course, just a few days later, he’d receive the opportunity to play, and he’d earn the right to keep it, at least for one night.

Now the question becomes what he can do for the Mavs in the scope of this season. Obviously once Nowitzki returns, there will naturally be less minutes up for grabs. But Finney-Smith has demonstrated he can defend both on the wing and on the interior, he can rebound well, and his jumper notably improved over the summer and into training camp, as he removed a hitch and smoothed things out. He’s got a great frame, too, catching the eye of his teammate Andrew Bogut.

“He doesn’t know how good he can be in this league,” Bogut said after the win against the Bucks. “For a young fella, he’s still finding himself and his identity and how he fits in. But he’s got the body of an NBA player. If you build an NBA player, you’d probably give him that body. He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s lean, he can get up and down the floor.”

Finney-Smith might be a dream physical specimen, but so are his teammates Justin Anderson and Harrison Barnes, who scored a career-high 34 points on Sunday night. In addition to Nowitzki and Wesley Matthews, the perimeter minutes are going to be awfully hard to come by for the rookie. Carlisle is not a coach who historically gives rookies much of a leash, as evidenced by his quick pull of Nicolas Brussino in Sunday’s game. (He was replaced by Finney-Smith.)

That likely is not music to Finney-Smith’s ears, but it only reinforces the attitude he’s played the game with for his entire life.

“I never took a shortcut,” he told Mavs.com. “I’ve always worked my way through everything. And to be in this opportunity, to be on an NBA roster and learn from the the best and play with the best, I’m just blessed to be here.”

Share and comment

More Mavs News