The Dallas Mavericks outlasted the Memphis Grizzlies in a rock fight of a basketball game, 103-93. Dirk Nowitzki scored a game high 21 points, with rookie Justin Anderson notching his first career double double of 19 points and 10 rebounds. Raymond Felton dished out a season high 14 assists coming off the bench. Tony Allen poured in 25 points and grabbed seven rebounds in defeat.
The game got off to an awful start with each team turning the ball over five times in the opening frame. The Mavericks took command briefly in the second quarter on the strength of a 13-0 run before Memphis got hot and rallied back to take a 49-46 lead into half time. The third quarter was a back and forth affair for most of the period until Memphis took a 65-62 lead with around three minutes remaining. The Mavericks responded with what became a game-deciding 28-8 run over the remainder of the third quarter and first six minutes of the final period. The Grizzlies attempted a variety of comebacks before finally succumbing, 103-93.
Here are some takeaways following the important victory:
The "Next man up" concept is getting a little bit absurd.
The Mavericks won their sixth straight contest without the services of their best player during the streak. J.J. Barea strained his groin following a hard foul in the first quarter. That left the door open for the ever-surprising Raymond Felton, who came off the bench to play perhaps his best game of the season. Not only did Felton dish out 14 helpers, he scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds. He wasn't the only Maverick to step up: Devin Harris came alive during the big third and fourth quarter run, scoring all 16 of his points in the second half.
Dallas can't really afford another significant injury, but if the goal is to simply get to the finish line in the playoffs, these performances from the stable of veteran Dallas guards will be what pushes the Mavericks over the finish line.
Dirk Nowitzki can still hit shots
One of the worrisome aspects of the previous five victories was just how atrocious Dirk Nowitzki has been, shooting just 28 percent from the field. Against the Grizzlies he hit 6 of 12 attempts, but that included 4 misses from the right wing which were all great looks. With the pace slowed way down and Rick Carlisle calling all the plays on the sideline, there are fewer chances for Dirk to get the open looks he was seeing earlier in the season as a result of the good Maverick ball movement. Dallas made real attempts to get Dirk involved on set plays, using lots of cross screening. Long term (meaning into the playoffs), I'm not sure how effective that will be since grinding Dirk through screens takes a physical toll on his body. For this one game, it worked, and I'll take it.
Justin Anderson is worthy of his first round selection, even if his shot looks like an homage to Shawn Marion
I'm saying nothing new here, but since I've been unable to watch many Maverick games the last two months, it's really delightful to see Anderson get meaningful minutes. He rebounds with exuberance, plays very hard defense, and is smooth offensively. Right now he is still prone to mistakes on both ends, particularly on offense, but that's because he's essentially playing at one speed. Once the game slows down for him and he learns how to use his athleticism in ways other than going as fast as he can, Anderson stands a real chance at being a consistent NBA rotation player.
And I know his shot isn't THAT bad, but right now it looks very strange leaving his hands. It didn't matter against the Grizzlies though, since he scored a career high 19 points.
Salah Merji is fun, effective, and refreshing to watch
The three-headed center combination of Zaza Pachulia, David Lee, and Salah Merji is so utterly preposterous on paper and yet when the ball is live, it's been delightful to see all three guys play. Merji is such a breath of fresh air: he's tough, he's skilled, he knows his role, and relishes making an impact. The blocks have become a staple of his in-game presence, but his offensive game is really striking. The ability to catch the ball is so underrated (Sam Dalembert and Erik Dampier wave sadly) and Salah catches the ball so well around the rim. The three straight possessions in the fourth where Ray Felton drove and lobbed high to Salah for a dunk or lay in were fantastic to watch.
The Mavericks are making the playoffs
With three games remaining, the Mavericks need to win just one game OR watch the Houston Rockets fall during one of their remaining contests. Houston has a very soft schedule remaining, facing three lottery bound teams, yet have displayed a stunning tendency to play down to inferior competition. Barring a catastrophic collapse from Dallas (which is certainly possible, given how injury plagued the team is right now), I feel pretty confident in saying the Mavericks will make the post season.