These days, it feels like we're never sure which Mavericks team is going to run out onto the court. Will it be the one that starts strong and fades after halftime? Or will it be the team that starts off terribly and then finds a rhythm late? Tonight in Milwaukee, the clock ran down to 8:55 in the first quarter before O.J. Mayo scored the first field goal for the Mavericks. They were 0-6 leading up to that basket, but then they made six of their next ten shots to close the gap that the Bucks had created.
There was a brief scary moment when Darren Collison was knocked to the ground and hit in the face with the ball. He stayed down but the referees didn't stop the play, so the Bucks ran a five on four back and scored a three. After that it seemed as though the Bucks were getting to the basket with ease, but despite a slow start on the defensive end for the Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki scored 10 points in first quarter and kept the Mavericks right in the game.
There was a strange moment of symmetry when Brandon Jennings went down hard early in the second quarter, and the Mavericks ran a five on four, which resulted in a Dirk three. Also in the second quarter, we saw Jae Crowder start to find his feet on his collegiate home court. He was more active on defense than I remember seeing him, and his shots, which can be mind-bogglingly ill advised, were actually pretty good. After the game, Rick Carlisle said of Crowder that he "plays hard, [is] in to winning, a team guy." He was part of a 15-0 run by the Mavericks that propelled them into the lead.
There were three other players who stood out in the second quarter, and none of them are who you'd think. Brandan Wright, who lately has been taking Chris Kaman's minutes, had a season-high three blocks against a team with Larry Sanders (who had four of his own). Mike James, who we often rag on for making bonehead plays and taking really dumb shots at inopportune times, was getting to the basket almost at will. He also hit a few jumpers for good measure. And finally Rodrigue Beaubois, who we sometimes forget exists, stepped in for Collison when he went back to the locker room to have his eye checked out. During his nine minutes in the first half, Roddy scored seven points and had three assists. Carlisle had high praise for Beaubois; "Roddy gave us a huge lift...[he's] been doing good things, working extremely hard, staying ready."
After halftime, we got to see Wright and Roddy really stretching their legs and creating offense. They're both so athletic and graceful that it becomes a different kind of game when they're flowing. The whole team displayed some really nice ball movement, leaving the Bucks' defense one step behind. The lead swelled to 18 but since basketball is a game of runs, the Bucks scored nine straight with five minutes to play in the period. Carlisle threw out a lineup of Wright, Collison, Crowder, Elton Brand, and Vince Carter, who were able to respond quickly and increase the lead again. These guys were able to give Dirk a nice long break on the bench while they (along with Roddy and Mayo) comfortably closed out the third.
Dirk was back on the floor to start the fourth, and though he was a little bit stale on offense, he was having a great night on the boards. He got his 3rd double-double of the season, finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds. The entire team followed Dirk's lead and became stagnant, allowing the Bucks to climb back to within five points with just four and a half minutes to play. But thankfully old faithful, Vince Carter, hit a few timely threes just like he's been doing as the season has gone on. He wound up scoring 13 points in the fourth. Carlisle said, "Vince got hot obviously at the right time." He finished 6-10 from the field, 4-6 from three and 7-7 from the line. No one will take him seriously as a candidate for sixth man of the year, but I think we can all agree he deserves mention.
Mavericks managed the clock well in the final minute, which hasn't really been the case as of late. It was a relief to see Dallas with the ball in their possession as time ran out, rather than scrambling on defense praying for a missed shot. They shot 50% from floor for the game, made 11 three pointers and absolutely dominated the game with bench scoring, 55-34. The team hasn't won three games in a row on the road all season, not to mention they've matched their longest win streak of four, so I'd say this win feels pretty good.