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Mavericks win first game against the Bucks 86-74 while Harrison Barnes dominates

Finally, Dallas put a 1 in the win column.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After an uncomfortably long five-game losing streak to start the season, Dallas pulled off their first win of the season with a 86-74 win against the Milwaukee Bucks. Dirk Nowitzki didn’t play. Deron Williams didn’t play. Wesley Matthews shot 3-17 from the field. And yet Dallas still won. How did this happen?

Dallas’ defense showed up big holding the Bucks to 74 points in regulation and one point in OT. Tonight was a coming out party for Dorian Finney-Smith, who received the game ball tonight.

With rotations featuring Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, and Finney-Smith, the Mavericks could make defensive switches with ease. Andrew Bogut and Salah Mejri’s defensive presence inside solidified a solid all around night from the Mavs defense.

Offensively the team was led by a career high 34 points from Harrison Barnes. Playing mostly power forward gave Barnes mismatches all night which he exploited in one on one matchups.

JJ Barea’s 21 points and 5 assists were critical to the Mavs success tonight. Late in overtime Barnes had a mismatch which drew an extra defender out to him, leaving Mejri unaccounted for. Salah alertly set a screen for Barea who hit an open three to extend the lead.

Wesley Matthews’ shot didn’t fall until late but he kept Antetokounmpo in foul trouble and hit two late dagger threes to seal the Mavericks first win of the season. Here’s what we learned tonight.

Harrison Barnes keeps showing up

The raw numbers are impressive: on a night where he was needed, Barnes rose to the occasion with 34 points and 8 rebounds shooting 50% from the field to go along with his 2 assists and 2 steals. Yes, the sample size is small but at this point, I am comfortable saying that Barnes is the best small forward that the Mavs have had since Shawn Marion.

Here’s the thing, Barnes lacks the fluid offensive movement that is a common characteristic among most stars. In fact, he is almost deliberate in his movements to a fault. Watch him upon catching the basketball, and you’ll see a textbook fundamental basketball player. He catches the ball, squares up to put himself in triple threat position, and makes a move.

While the bad news is that his mid range shooting numbers are likely unsustainable, the good news is that he hasn’t been getting his points doing anything that is outside of his game. Unlike many others of his pay grade, Barnes plays within himself while working to get the most out of his arsenal. Today, his mid range jumpers, surprisingly explosive drives to the basket, and strong rebounding was enough to get the Mavs on board in the win column.

Dorian Finney-Smith had the best plus-minus on the team

Despite fan favourite Justin Anderson getting the start, it was the Mavs’ final addition to the roster, Dorian Finney-Smith that played big minutes. The 6”8 rookie impressed with his high octane effort, and disciplined defense, and was a team high +19 in just under 32 minutes of play.

Although he only shot 1-6 from the field, his defensive performance was integral to the Dallas win. For evidence of Coach Carlisle’s trust in the rookie, note that it was Finney-Smith and not Wes Matthews or Harrison Barnes that was tasked with guarding Antetokounmpo on the final possession of regulation.

Finney-Smith’s performance could also have the tangential benefit of lighting a metaphorical fire under Anderson, as his performances have been sub-par thus far in the season. From a physical and athleticism standpoint, there is nothing that Finney-Smith can do that Anderson can’t. An interesting point of contrast however, was seen in their styles. Whereas Finney-Smith was almost never out of position, played disciplined defense with a focus on positioning and contesting, Anderson has shown a tendency to let his discipline slip in favor of chasing highlight-worthy defensive stops. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the bulk of the back-up front court minutes moving forward as Dirk nurses his injury.

Also, as a quick aside, it was great to see Finney-Smith out on the floor along with Barnes and Matthews. Having three big, athletic wing players capable of switching screens was a welcome and novel sight on a team that usually features a dedicated but flat-footed Dirk shuffling on defense.

Wes Matthews really has to start hitting shots

Through 6 games Wes Matthews has shot 2-of-10, 1-of-8, 3-of-15, 3-of-5, 1-of-2 and 3-of-14 from beyond the arc. This has to change. Although he managed to hit the dagger 3 in overtime today, too many plays this season have ended with Wes clanking an open look generated off of a Barea or Barnes drive.

As a starting point, Wes should not be averaging more than six 3-point attempts a game. One can presume that when Dirk is back at full health (knock on wood) and Deron remembers how to be assertive on offense (knock on wood again), that Wes can cut down on his off of the dribble attempts that never look comfortable. That said, the pull up threes are not the sole problem as Wes is missing wide-open catch-and-shoot opportunities at an alarming rate. If he can start making those, the Mavs offense will start to look a lot better. Please Basketball Gods, have mercy on the Ironman. He’s defied what is usually a career ending injury for most, and gives it his all every game. Please?

Additional thoughts

  • Whether it's convincing Bogut to start rolling to the basket after setting screens, or giving Mejri more minutes, Dallas needs more on offense from its center position. When Bogut hovers around the free throw line, defenses ignore him. Salah has shown surprisingly good hands around the basket thus far, and is proving to be a great roll man. Perhaps giving Mejri more minutes could open up the floor for Dallas’ penetration-challenged guards.
  • Although the Greek Freak didn’t have a particularly great game, he is something to watch. From his time-stands-still block on Mejri to his spin around Wes Matthews and finish over Bogut in the first half, all I could wonder was how the Mavericks’ front office talked themselves into Shane Larkin instead...
  • Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that Powell is aggressively but also consistently a second late for rebounds and shot-block attempts?