The Mavericks closed out a game without Monta Ellis. Ellis, the Mavs second leading scorer and sometimes second-most important player, was no where to be found in the last half of the fourth quarter. Instead, it was Devin Harris and Jose Calderon in the backcourt.
This might be an excellent sign of things to come, as crazy as that sounds.
Harris had his best game back since coming back with injury, the bench looked sharp, Dirk was crushing it and the Mavs avoided any meltdowns in a 116-106 win against the Pistons.
Dallas started off on fire in the first quarter, hitting nearly 50 percent of its shots. The Mavs kept that shooting up throughout the first half, but 11 first-half turnovers (most of them from Ellis) allowed Detroit to never fall behind more than about 10 points in the half.
It was discouraging to see the Mavs never able to fully put the Pistons away. Detroit has some interesting individual talents, but as a team they're a mess. Those turnovers kept Detroit in the game all night, until the Mavs finally put the clamps on with a nice push with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Harris and Calderon played the final 5:43 together and with Brandan Wright getting some fourth-quarter burn, the Mavs looked a little livelier and quicker to the ball. Wright blocked some shots, Harris pushed the ball and made some good pick and roll plays and then Dirk brought the hammer with a dagger three in the games final moments to make sure there wouldn't be another double-digit fourth quarter lead disappear.
Some extended thoughts:
- Most of us at MMB have been waiting for Devin Harris to come back before making a final judgement on this team and it looks like it was for good reason. Harris (14 points, seven assists, one turnover) was fantastic tonight, making good reads out of the pick and roll, pushing when needed and just bring a nice dose of speed and athleticism to the backcourt that's been very much missed. Harris should only get better as he gets more into shape and the 24 minutes tonight were a good sign Rick Carlisle already trusts him
- With Harris getting 24 minutes, that allowed Monta Ellis (11 points, three assists, eight turnovers) to get some much needed time on the bench. It's not really a surprise to say that Ellis has looked gassed out on the court in recent weeks and he's been pushing 40 minutes almost every game. In the bigger scheme of things, I wonder if tonight was a sign of things to come, with Harris and Calderon finishing the last 5:43 of the game. Personally, I like the Harris-Calderon lineup to close games over Harris-Ellis. Calderon and Harris I feel gives the Mavs the best combination of defense, size, speed, athleticism, shot-making and basketball IQ of all the Mavs guard-combinations. As well as Ellis has done for most of the year, he still isn't the greatest crunch-time decision maker. Having Harris out there with Calderon guarantees the Mavs will have two smart, calm and collected guards handling the ball and Harris gives the Mavs Ellis' slashing ability while also being able to defend both guard positions. I'll look into the small sample sizes as the week goes on, but I feel Harris-Calderon will be the Mavs best back court option to close most games.
- It was really good to see Dirk just obliterate a team again. Dirk's looked a little off the last few games and the time off did nothing to quell our fears about Dirk being really freaking old. 28 points, nine rebounds, four assists, 10-16 shooting, one turnover for Dirk tonight. He even missed two wide-open shots in the second-half. Dirk was his brilliant self spotting up out of pick and rolls, creating out of the post and passing out of double-teams. After see Brooklyn frustrate Dirk the other day with multiple defenders, it was nice to see Dirk handle double-teams with more efficiency tonight.
- When Brandan Wright plays basketball for the Mavericks, the Mavericks usually play really good basketball. This isn't hard. Even though the Pistons boast a big front court with lots of rebounding, Wright just has to find a way to get more consistent minutes. DeJuan Blair just wasn't cutting it in the first half when Samuel Dalembert took his usual cat nap during the second quarter. When Blair was forced out with foul trouble in the second half, Wright's extended run to end the third, start the fourth gave the Mavs a huge lift. He finished and blocked shots too boot. Wright is too good at basketball to be limited to less than 20 minutes a night, no matter the matchup.
- Pigging-backing off that point, I need to look at the lineup data but the eye-test is not being particularly kind to the Wright-Blair lineups. It just doesn't make very much sense, since Blair hogs up the middle, not allowing Wright the room to slash into the paint on pick and rolls. There just seems to be something off when those two player together. The Mavs just don't look good. At least it gives Shawn Marion a break.
- The Pistons are a weird basketball team. Not sure why they want to play Josh Smith out on the wing so much. I feel like Smith at the four with either Monroe or Drummond at the give would make so much more sense and allow Detroit to play another shooter because they desperately need some spacing.
- It was nice to see the Mavs finish a fourth quarter strong instead of limping to the finish line to either lose or barely win. It's been awhile since that's happened.
- Dalembert had a nice little burst out of halftime, blocking some shots. Good to see him engaged, even if it's only for a few minutes a night.