There’s a very good chance when we all look back at the Mavericks season as they’re waiting to find out what draft pick they’ve earned, we’ll look at Dallas’ almost-upset of Boston as an almost unnecessary blemish on a tanking resume. “Heh, remember when the Mavs almost ruined their chance at the third pick?”
That’s sort of a shame. The Mavericks almost beat the hottest team in the NBA on Monday night, but lost to the Celtics 110-102 and while the loss doesn’t change their place in the standings or where the Mavericks are going, these types of games matter — a locker room can only endure so much crappy basketball, no matter how many veterans are holding it together. Even in a loss, the room probably needed this as opposed to another listless beatdown.
Dallas competed about as hard as they have all season and were able to almost withstand a big size disadvantage on the perimeter thanks to huge games from Harrison Barnes and Dwight Powell. It wasn’t meant to be. Oh well. Here’s what we learned:
Harrison Barnes still has tons of room to grow, but he’s a badass
Barnes had one of his best games since joining the Mavs last season, scoring 31 points on 21 shots. Through three and a half quarters, he was well on his way to having his best game as a Maverick.
Then that pesky fourth quarter happened and all of Barnes’ flaws seemed to spill out of him like when you try to carry all the groceries to the house from the car in one trip. Barnes threw the ball away multiple times on double-teams and was unable to pick out open shooters as the Celtics sold out to stop him. With the game tied at 96 and less than a minute left, Barnes isolated against Jaylen Brown and coughed the ball up for the second time in the quarter.
It was just a reminder that Barnes is really good at some things but, sheesh, he still has some ways to go. Before that stretch, Barnes was bulldozing the best team in the league to get pretty much any shot he wanted. Dallas took advantage of Kyrie Irving not being the strongest fighter around screens and repeatedly abused Irving in the middle of the floor with Barnes getting to whatever spot he wanted. He was getting into the paint, making tough shots in the restricted area and getting to the free throw line.
Barnes atoned a bit in overtime, scoring four points and grabbing a couple of big rebounds. It wasn’t enough.
If only he could have closed better in the fourth, it would have been an almost flawless game. Still though, Barnes is better than he has any right to be when he signed in Dallas last summer. Maybe the better passing will come next season.
Dwight Powell brings a missing element
With Nerlens Noel imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, the Mavericks desperately miss a vertical spacing threat to cause defenses to collapse and give their shooters and drivers more room to operate.
Salah Mejri is an OK roll man, but he isn’t exactly lighting streaking across the lane. Teams aren’t scared of a Salah roll and don’t really compensate for it. For most of this season, outside of whatever Dennis Smith Jr. conjured up, it felt like the Mavs were just a weak side-to-side offense with no threat of forcing a defense to make difficult decisions outside of the occasional Smith drive or Barnes post-up.
Powell helped change that Monday night in his 23 minutes, scoring six points. The line doesn’t look impressive (six points, four rebounds), but having Powell’s speed in the pick and roll allowed the Mavericks to play faster and probe deeper into the paint thanks to Boston having to account for Powell’s rim-dives whenever he was on the floor.
Dennis hasn’t earned crunch-time minutes, I guess
Smith wasn’t great tonight, finishing with just eight points on 4-of-16 shooting. It was a supremely difficult matchup, going against the long and feisty arms of Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown while also trying to guard Kyrie Iriving, who torched Dallas for 47 points.
There was no sign of Smith in the fourth quarter, as Rick Carlisle closed the game with J.J. Barea and Yogi Ferrell to go along with Wes Matthews, Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki. The lineup definitely wore out its welcome as the game winded down, losing its juice as the Celtics mounted their comeback. If Smith didn’t earn the crunch-time spot, sure, OK, why not play Harris then and try to do something to combat Irving’s meteoric night?
I’m not as mad that Smith didn’t finish the game because he wasn’t that great tonight, but this season isn’t really about wins and losses and getting a chance to close out a game against one of the peers of his position would have been a fun sink-or-swim scenario for Smith to handle.