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Tim Hardaway Jr. is a bucket off the bench

Hardaway is excelling in his new role.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks, the Dallas Mavericks found themselves in a familiar position: trailing as the game headed into the fourth quarter. Atlanta had built a double-digit lead in the third quarter, but led by only nine points, 90-81, as the final began. The Hawks’ lead wouldn’t last long.

Even though he shot hadn’t been falling, Dallas’ coaching staff knew that it had to get the ball in the hands of Tim Hardaway Jr. If he got hot, the Mavericks’ deficit could vanish quickly.

“Something happened in, I believe, it was the fourth quarter,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said. “Jenny Boucek, one of my coaches, came to me during a timeout and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to give Tim a shot. We’ve just got to get him going.’

“So, we set up a play, we got him a shot, he banged in a three and that kind of got the team going. Jenny’s recognition of that situation and Timmy being able to get the ball in the basket, it got us going.”

For the first three and a half minutes of the quarter, Hardaway looked like the best player on the court. He scored 10 points in that span, helping Dallas cut Atlanta’s lead to 97-94. He could have yelled “hibachi” a la Gilbert Arenas. Hardaway was cooking.

These furious scoring outbursts are becoming the norm for Hardaway. Since he’s moved from the starting five to a reserve role, he’s given his team the offensive punch it lacked off the bench. It has helped the team tremendously and may have saved the season.

In the six games he’s played since moving to the bench, Hardaway is averaging 18.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. He’s also shooting 46.9 percent overall and an eye-catching 43.1 percent on three-pointers. The Mavericks have a record of 4-2 in these games.

Dallas’ bench was averaging 36.6 points per game this season—good enough to rank 15th in the league. Since Feb. 1, when Hardaway moved to the bench fulltime, the reserves are averaging 41 points. That mark moves them up to sixth overall.

Overall, Hardaway has played a total of eight games off the bench. His numbers are staggering in these contests. He’s averaging 18.9 points, three rebounds, and 1.4 assists. He is shooting 49.1 percent on field goals and 47.8 percent from downtown. Perhaps even more impressive is his .665 true shooting percentage and his offensive rating of 125.

Hardaway has been a starter for much of his career. It’s a role he’s cherished and fought to keep. Yet, as the Mavericks struggled, he knew the team needed to do something—make a change—in order to turn the season around. When Carlisle approached him about changing his role, he was ready to make a sacrifice to help the team.

“He couldn’t have been more open minded to coming off the bench,” Carlisle said. “He said, ‘Coach, whatever you need, whatever we need right now. We need to bust out of this thing.’ He goes, ‘Whatever you need, I’m there.’”

The 10 points Hardaway rattled off to start the fourth quarter against the Hawks lit a fire in the Mavericks. He finished the quarter with 13 points, making five of his six shots. Dallas went on to outscore Atlanta 37-27 in the frame and capture a 118-117 win. They couldn’t have done it without Hardaway’s timely contribution.

Carlisle says that Hardaway’s willingness to come off the bench sets a great tone in the locker room. It’s provided the team with much more, though. He’s elevated his play and is helping the Mavericks notch much needed wins. And that’s why Hardaway embraced the move. He wants to win no matter the cost.

“That’s what I’m here for, that’s what I want to do, and that’s what I want to be a part of—of a winning team, of a winning culture,” Hardaway said. “Whatever it takes.”