It’s been a herkey-jerkey start to the Mavericks season that’s seen them on both ends of blowout games, but in Houston, the Mavericks came away with a win to pull within one game of .500, beating the Rockets 113-110 on Monday.
The first half had the team looking like the vaunted Mavericks’ offense of old (last season). They were a perfect 13-of-13 from the penalty stripe, 10-of-22 from deep and amassed a season high 16 points en route to 61 points and an eight point lead going into the locker room.
The game never quite made it to blowout territory, though, as Houston fought back with run after run in the second half and Dallas rolled out one of their infamous third quarter slumps. After being down by as many as 18 in the third, Houston got it as close as a tie, and constantly threatened to take the lead, but never quite managed it. In the end, Dallas did well to weather the storm and close strong, outsourcing the Rockets 19-8 in the closing half of the fourth. Oh, and Luka finished with his first triple double of the season with 33-11-16.
Willie Cauley-Stein, starting center
All the “start WCS!” messages I sent via slack were meant to be half joking. However, as the Mavs have struggled to find consistent production early, this kind of lineup tinkering was inevitable from coach Rick Carlise. To the bench went Dwight Powell and the struggling Tim Hardaway Jr., and in came Maxi Kleber and Willie Cauley-Stein.
For his part, WCS turned in probably his best performance in a Mavericks’ jersey by scoring 15 points, grabbing seven boards and keeping his mistakes to a minimum. A budding synergy with Luka Doncic may be starting to show as the two worked together on a couple pick and rolls that saw Cauley-Stein finishing some Luka alley-oops. If this was phase one of testing WCS as a starter, he passed with flying colors. Building upon this foundation will be the true test as to whether or not he sticks in the starting lineup.
Hardaway was unconscious
Hardaway also deserves praise here as he came off the bench for the first time since being promoted to a starter midway through last season. Previously, he struggled getting into the game as a reserve and his numbers as a starter left no shred of doubt he was better used in the starting unit. Tonight, though, he didn’t hang his head. He came out and scored 30 while being an absolute flamethrower from behind the arc with a 8-of-10 shooting night that bumped his season three point percentage from 32.7 to 40.6 and was the only Mavericks bench player with a positive plus-minus (an impressive plus-18).
Who knows if his bench role will be a long term experiment, but for tonight at least, it can be marked down as a great success.
My ears are ringing
No one likes making the referees a big part of a game’s story line, but they did all they could to insert themselves right into the middle of this one. On the season, Dallas has been averaging about 21 personal fouls per game — that’s roughly in line with where they’ve been in previous season, so no small sample size errors there. However, through one half alone, they found themselves saddled with 18 and went on to end the game with 31 total.
37 fouls and six techs through 32 minutes of hoops.— Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) January 5, 2021
Not to mention, we saw no fewer than six technical fouls called in a game that, honestly, wasn’t even that chippy. Certainly not the kind of game a ref needs to reel back in with techs for even the most minor infraction. Such was the case when Houston’s DeMarcus Cousins caught a weak second tech that saw him ejected after playing only three minutes. (Mavs fans who saw Kristaps Porzingis tossed on a weak call should have a good idea of how frustrating that is to watch.)
James Harden and Luka, destined to get a tech in a game being called like this one was, fulfilled that promise with one apiece. Hell, even Mavericks’ assistant coach Darrell Armstrong got in on the action, drawing a tech from the bench.
It’s not going to go down as the prettiest win of the season, but it’ll go down as a win nonetheless. It’s good to get the team back in the win column against a solid team like Houston with Porzingis seemingly ready to join the fray any day now.