A few caveats — the Boston Celtics were on the second night of a back-to-back, without Gordon Hayward and still trying to figure things this season.
Even with those, there’s no denying the Mavericks are a completely different team from a few weeks ago and handling the best defensive team in the NBA for 48 minutes is wildly impressive. Dallas beat Boston 113-104 at home on Saturday night, only trailing once for a brief spell in the third quarter. Otherwise it was mostly a wire-to-wire win.
Without Dennis Smith Jr., out with a wrist injury, Luka Doncic was the full-time point guard for the first time all season. The Mavericks jumped out the gate quickly behind Doncic’s brilliant mix of shooting and passing and Dallas never really looked back. It got tight in the third quarter, but the Mavs instantly responded to grab control of the game and never relented. Dallas is back to .500 during a death-march portion of the schedule. Here’s what we noticed:
All hail Luka Doncic, the new Point God
Doncic got to play point guard full time for the first time all season and damn if he didn’t just punk the best defense in the NBA.
No Smith meant Rick Carlisle had options for filling the lineup — he could have gone to J.J. Barea or maybe Jalen Brunson to keep Barea in his customary bench role. Instead, Carlisle dipped into the modern NBA bag Mavericks fans have been thristing over for some time now, letting Doncic run the show and starting a “not really small-ball” lineup of Doncic, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dorian Finney-Smith and DeAndre Jordan.
You know how rare that is for the Mavs? Doncic so far this season has only played two minutes total without one of the Mavs point guards alongside him.
It felt like Pandora’s box was finally opened — Doncic finished with 15 points, eight assists and just three turnovers, orchestrating the Mavericks to 48.3 percent shooting and 39 percent from three on 41 attempts. Those are numbers the Celtics just don’t give up and the 19-year-old did it with ease, picking out shooters in the corners, initiating the offense and pushing the pace.
With Doncic at point guard, it finally felt like the rest of the rotation fell into place. Matthews shot 12 times and most of them were good looks in the flow of the offense. Barnes was a spot-up machine, canning 5-of-7 from deep and most of them coming off Doncic passes. There was less awkward dribbling of the ball and more flow, more pace and more direction. This felt right.
Of course, it’s only one game against an admittedly tired and out of sorts team. Even still, it was a tantalizing preview of the future Mavericks. There’s no doubt Doncic should be running the show every game, but there are still things to be sorted, like Smith’s role on the team. It’s far too early to make any grand proclamations, but it sure was fun watching Doncic run point. Hopefully that becomes the norm in Dallas soon enough.
Role Player Harrison Barnes is the best Harrison Barnes
There’s been debate on Mavs Twitter about how Barnes fits in with the future of this Mavericks team and the positive outlook was on full display tonight. Barnes took 12 shots, seven of them threes and was mostly regulated to a spot up guy while Doncic ran the offense.
That’s the best version of Barnes — the one who plays versatile defense while not having to do too much on offense. Barnes isolations and post-ups were a godsend on the talent starved Mavs teams from the past two seasons, but things have changed and Dallas has a top-tier playmaker now. It was always going to be an awkward transition but tonight was a good barometer for how Barnes can be a very positive player in this current version of the Mavericks. He even still had a couple of isolations and post-ups but they were mostly regulated to when Doncic was on the bench and against the Celtics second unit. That’s a perfect spot for those looks, so the Mavs can have their cake and eat it too when it comes to Barnes — they just have to make sure to regulate it and have Barnes buy in to a role that he is probably overpaid for.
The fearsome Mavs bench is almost back
Barea had some wonky games early in the season without his rocks in lineup with Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris both nursing injuries. Harris is back now and Dirk is soon to follow and it’s done wonders for the Mavs bench and Barea’s game.
Harris had a modest nine points, but hit some crucial buckets after the Celtics took a one-point lead in the third quarter to get the game back under control for the Mavericks. Barea was stellar all night, reverting back to his form the previous handful of seasons and being dynamite outside the arc — Barea drilled two 3-pointers and hit a couple of nice mid-range jumpers and just looked great all night. He finished with 20 points, eight assists and two turnovers in his 26 minutes off the bench and the transition from Doncic to Barea was seamless — the Mavs tempo never faltered throughout the game.
While it’s annoying in a vacuum that the Mavericks need two over-30 players to look like a competent team, at least this version of Mavericks basketball is a lot better than whatever we saw three weeks ago. It’s only going to get better when Dirk gets back (and Dwight Powell, who was out with a knee injury again), but it’s nice to see Barea and Harris feasting against opposing benches once again.