It was never easy, but the Mavericks took a 69-point second half and controlled the game in the final moments to secure a 122-116 victory.
Much like their mindset against the Suns, it was clear Luka Doncic (27 points, eight rebounds, 14 assists) and the Mavericks wanted to set a defensive tone early. Whether that was disrupting Hawks guard Trae Young (21 points, four rebounds, nine assists) along the perimeter, or having active hands in the lane, the Mavericks were showing plenty of energy early. Though it led to seven first quarter turnovers for the Hawks, poor shooting by the Mavericks left them up just 26-22 after one.
The second quarter carried a sluggish pace, with cold stretches and less stops forcing the Mavericks to play the frame mostly behind. For the Hawks, they were carried by Kevin Huerter’s 13 first half points along with Danilo Gallinari’s 12 first half points after early foul trouble kept Young out of rhythm. The Mavericks found themselves down 56-53 heading into the break.
Similar to the first, the Mavericks came out looking to make a point defensively and quickly found themselves in front by creating turnovers and disrupting the Hawks rhythm. But it was the red hot shooting of sixth man Tim Hardaway Jr. that sent the Mavericks surging for a 35-point third quarter.
For much of the fourth the Mavericks looked in control, changing up rotations and playing aggressive all the way through. And though they faltered for a brief painstaking moment that felt like they may cough up the game once again, the Mavericks made enough plays to pull out the W. Here’s what we noticed from tonight’s streak-snapping victory.
Defense has been a major storyline this season, as the team itself made it clear they wanted to be better on that end. It’s been a roller coaster ride defensively, especially of late, but the Mavericks looked to set a tone in this game.
It wasn’t until late that Trae Young really started to find his looks. Whether it was pushing out high traps, or savvy one-on-one defense by Josh Richardson and Dorian Finney-Smith, the Mavericks looked to make him uncomfortable.
Though it isn’t always translating into buckets — the Mavericks had just 13 points off 16 forced turnovers — it seems obvious that right now this is their path to success. Especially as shots aren’t falling consistently, the Mavericks’ ability to get stops and disrupt the opponents’ rhythm is becoming increasingly valuable.
A Sixth Man rises
The Mavericks haven’t had an obvious sixth man over the last two seasons. They’ve needed someone with blind confidence in their shot, someone who can get hot quickly. Enter: Tim Hardaway Jr., who was the engine of a third quarter explosion.
Scoring 22 points on 5-of-10 shooting from three, Hardaway can provide that offensive energy the Mavericks badly need from the second rotation. He has moments, particularly at the end tonight, where he can go cold. But there’s no doubt he is the lethal shooter this team needs, and it was a huge boost tonight.
Fourth quarter start
A huge point of discussion of late has been the Mavericks’ poor start to the fourth. A few times recently they had late third quarter leads, only to cough those up to open the final frame as Luka rests. Tonight’s group, a shake-up that notably didn’t include Kristaps Porzingis, made a statement. Starting the fourth on a 7-2 run, a group of Jalen Brunson, Josh Richardson, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, and Maxi Kleber set a tone that carried through most of the quarter.
Also of note, Luka Doncic returned to the game less than three minutes into the quarter, a change to his fairly regimented minutes structure. But because of the play of the opening group Doncic and Porzingis — who was solid tonight with 24 points and 11 rebounds — could come in without immediately playing from behind.
This team has flaws that need to be improved upon. But tonight was about seeing a check in the win column, something everyone badly needed to see.