The Dallas Mavericks travelled to Phoenix Thursday night for the second game of a back-to-back, and walked out with a win that I shouldn't have to say was "much-needed", because any win is much-needed at this point. The matchup featured two teams that had spent the better part of the last decade among the Western Conference's elite, but both entered tonight without their recognizable stars and below .500 in the stands. Dallas did, however, have O.J Mayo, who would lead all scorers with 23 points, including the biggest basket of the night, and on "Satisfaction Guaranteed Night", it would be Mayo and the visitors getting the satisfaction of a victory.
The game did not start particularly well for Mayo or the Mavericks. The opening exchange would see Mayo miss a jumpshot, and Marcin Gortat (or "Gortog", or "Gortack", depending on which brain malfunction was afflicting Reggie Miller at that moment) finish an alley-oop dunk at the other end. Phoenix would come out with some extra pep in their step, and they raced out to a 11-1 lead, before Elton Brand would make Dallas' first field goal a little over three minutes into the contest.
The revolving door that has been the starting lineup turned once again tonight, as Dahntay Jones and Elton Brand would get the starting nods in place of Jae Crowder and Chris Kaman. It would be the latter who would kickstart the Dallas offense coming off the bench, hitting jumpers and hookshots and generally looking like the only capable offensive player early on. Kaman would go 3-4 in the first, leading a 20-10 run to end the quarter that would tie the game up at 23 apiece.
The second quarter would be a sloppy one for Dallas, as six turnovers and a four-plus minute scoreless stretch would put Phoenix back in the lead, though O.J Mayo would hit his first jumpshot of the night with three minutes left, as he started to get himself warm for the second half. Also seeing action was Brandan Wright, who would play a major role in the second half, as well.
A Shawn Marion layup would be the only points Dallas would put on the board in the final two and a half minutes, however, as the offensively inept Mavericks would trail 44-40 at the half. One telling stat: Markieff Morris had already reached double-digits in rebounds at halftime, en route to a 17-rebound performance, while no Dallas player had more than 7 rebounds for the entire game.
In the third quarter, Kaman would start instead of Brand, and promptly hit a jumpshot to start what would be as close to what we could call an offensive barrage as we've seen lately. O.J Mayo would make it 11-2 in favor of Dallas in the third quarter with a three, and the run would extend to 23-4 as Brandan Wright and Mayo would take turns scoring inside and out. Dallas lead 63-48 with three and a half minutes left in the third, and looked like they might break the game wide open, but Phoenix would respond with a 13-4 run of their own, and back to back threes would cut the Dallas advantage to six. The Mavericks entered the final quarter up by seven.
That's when it got interesting. Wright and Mayo would again lead the way for Dallas, scoring 11 of Dallas' first 12 points in the fourth, but that would span over eight and a half minutes, and Dallas would fail to fully separate from Phoenix, who would keep the lead manageably between eight and five until a run in the final three minutes. A pair of jumpers from Scola and Shannon Brown made it 83-80, and an O.J Mayo charge would give Phoenix the ball back, when Brandan Wright made the first of several key plays, stealing the ball just above the foul line, and shooting the go-ahead pass to Darren Collison, who would draw a clear-path foul from Goran Dragic(who, conversely, made the first of several key blunders).
Collison would hit the free throws(there would be lots of these), and due to the clear path foul Dallas would get the ball back again, up by five, with under two minutes left. Carter would miss a long jumpshot(the second one in a row; more on this later), and Phoenix would get a foul at the other end, hitting a pair of freebies to make the lead three. Then, Brandan Wright would make his second key play, following a Darren Collison layup miss with a putback, making it five again, now with just a minute-16 remaining. However, Markieff Morris would hit a three, electrifying the hopefully satisfied home crowd and cutting it to just a two point advantage.
A Darren Collison turnover would give Phoenix the ball back, and, predictably, another foul would allow Phoenix to go back to the line and tie the game. However, Dallas would draw up an isolation for their actual best scorer(and you'll forgive me if I say that comes as something of a surprise), putting O.J Mayo at the left elbow. Phoenix would counter, for some reason, with Sebastian Telfair, who would body up Mayo fairly effectively, but the four or five inches in height he gave up allowed Mayo to get off a relatively unobscured shot attempt, which Mayo sank. Dallas was ahead again, with 34 seconds left.
Mayo would guard Goran Dragic at the defensive end following the timeout, and though Dragic went right past Mayo, Dragic would blow the layup, and begin the flurry of free throw attempts that ended the game. One minor mistake by Mayo, where he committed a foul off the inbound, allowing Phoenix to score without taking time off the clock, threatened to perhaps give the Suns a longshot(literally) to tie the game, but a desperation heave at the end of the game that may not have counted anyway would miss, and Dallas would leave the court to the final tune of 97-94.
Some more observations:
- The final score probably made the game seem a little crisper than it was. It was 83-80 with under two minutes left, and somehow these teams manage to combine to score 28 points(14-14) in what were two of the longest final minutes I've seen in a while. 16 of those 28 points were free throws. Overall, it was a pretty sloppy game. Phoenix shot just 40%, yet had a shot at tying it up at the end of regulation.
- Plenty of good from Mayo, but some negatives, also. He would shoot the three well, and obviously hit the clutch shot the team desperately needed, but he also had six turnovers, and defensively continues to be less than stellar. Jared Dudley and others would take advantage of his most notable weakness, a lack of off-ball awareness, with backdoor cuts for easy baskets, but Mayo also seemed to struggle at times on the ball, allowing several drives to the basket from Goran Dragic. There was one maddening play where Mayo went under the screen on a pick and roll, and had a good five feet of space on Dragic, yet allowed his man to go past him to the basket(where, luckily, Dragic missed, which he did a lot tonight).
- That being said, Mayo is far from the worst defensive guard on this roster. Dallas has struggled badly, and I mean badly, defending the pick and roll, and it starts with the inability of the guards to fight through the screen. Darren Collison has rightfully earned a great deal of flack for this(he's been flat out terrible; there's no way around it), but Derek Fisher, for all his grittiness and veteranness and ring-havingness, hasn't done much better so far. He is short and slow, and though solidly built, he gets set back by hard screens, and this has time and time again forced the Dallas bigs, whether it's Kaman or Brand or whoever, to come out, and expose the middle for easy finishes and/or offensive rebounds.
- Overall, however, I think you'd have to say the defensive effort was much better tonight. Or...at least, I'd say that. Phoenix is not a worldbeater, but as I said Dallas managed to hold them to 40% shooting, and they outrebounded them, AND they tied the team in points in the paint.
- One note I didn't make was that Chris Kaman had to leave the court due to what appeared to be an ankle injury. Though Kaman had a nice little 15-7 line, I think the nice silver lining to that was the opportunity given to Brandan Wright, who came in and scored 16 huge points, and had a pair of blocks and steals. Kaman frustrates me at times(there was one stretch where Kaman fumbled the ball out of bounds in the post on end then fumbled away an easy rebound at the other), but I'm not sure this team can afford to have anybody else out too long.
- Staying on Kaman, I'm having a tough time figuring out who is better for this team, Kaman or Brand. On one hand, I feel like Brand is more consistent defending the interior and as a rebounder, but Kaman is clearly one of the few legit go-to scorers this team has right now.
- I really like what Vince Carter has done this year, but I hope the lesson has been learned now that Carter should not be isolated late in games when Dallas has to have a basket. He's just not that guy anymore. O.J Mayo may not be Kobe Bryant but there's no good reason he shouldn't be taking the must-have shot. At least until Dirk gets back.
- With a win in the books, Dallas goes to Houston Saturday to try and get back to .500. Keep it here for updates on Kaman's health and all your Mavs news.