The Mavericks played the second game of a home-and-home series with the Memphis Grizzlies tonight, losing 96-91 in rather dramatic fashion. Dirk Nowitzki (14 points, 7 rebounds) reached another milestone, appearing in his 1400th career game, only the 7th player in league history to do so.
This game must have been sponsored by Doritos because boy was it chippy (I’m sorry). Carlisle picked up a tech in the first quarter, then Matthews and Dirk followed suit in the second. Shortly after, Dennis Smith Jr. and James Ennis III had to be separated after some mild trash talk. The frustrations from the first half were being exorcised in a number of ways.
After giving up a 22-6 run to finish the first quarter, and shooting a horrid 27-percent from the floor (1/13 from three) in the first half, the Mavericks woke up in the third quarter, playing like the team that showed up last night. The activity and energy level was visibly different, and it changed the whole game. At one point cutting the lead to five, the Mavericks ended the third down by eight - thanks to hot shooting from Matthews (4 of 6 from deep in the third) and hustle plays from Noel.
After a very valiant fight back in to the game, at one point even taking a lead late in the fourth, the Mavericks couldn’t close it out. It came down to a final possession with 15 seconds left, where DSJ was left somewhat stranded and forced to heave a fade-away three.
Harrison Barnes finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Wesley Matthews had 18 points (4-of-8 from three).
Here are some things we learned from tonight.
Attack-Mode is this team’s lifeblood
This game was a perfect example of the two very different faces of this Mavericks squad. In the first half, nothing was working offensively, and they weren’t engaged on the defensive end. They weren’t attacking on either end of the floor, disrupting their own flow and chemistry, and it showed.
Then someone plugged the team in at halftime and everything changed. They started cutting in to the Grizzlies’ lead when they upped the intensity defensively and started scrapping on the boards and attacking their defense. This team may not win a ton of games; but if they want to give themselves a chance, it’s going to be when they are constantly attacking their opponent.
The bench has to show up every night
Carlisle mentioned after the game last night that each player’s individual success is reliant on the whole. And while that’s a lot of coach-speak, it was evident tonight. In the first half J.J. Barea and Yogi Ferrell, the two spark plugs off the bench, were ice cold (going 0-of-11 from the field combined). If not for the scrappy effort of Salah Mejri and Maxi Kleber, the bench would have been invisible in the first half.
But credit the whole unit, because they responded in the second half. Mejri, Kleber, and Dwight Powell combined for NINE offensive boards, and Barea and Ferrell put up 13 points. The bench crew definitely missed the energy Devin Harris brings - and based on the last two games, it’s clear that the Mavericks need the reserves to contribute every night.
Carlisle used the same starting unit from last night, and while it was a rocky start, it seems like this crew makes a lot of sense together. Outside of lazy offense, the group of Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Nerlens Noel were broken up due to more foul trouble from Noel early on. But watching that group play together again to start the second half displayed the same chemistry fans saw last night.
There is a balance and variety from the group that you don’t see with other lineups that Carlisle has tried. And the presence of Noel under the basket (5 points, 8 rebounds - 5 offensive - and 2 assists in 20 minutes) relieves Dirk of some of the rim protection responsibilities.
It remains to be seen how Carlisle evaluates, and adjusts this crew. Most likely, the starters will continue to be matchup based. But for continuity purposes, and for the chemistry of the whole squad, these five seem to make the most sense at the beginning of every game.