Lately I’ve taken to describing Tim Hardaway Jr.’s somewhat strange season as if there exists an ethereal coin somewhere in the astral plane. Depending how it lands after being flipped by the cosmos, Hardaway either has a good game or a bad one.
Just in the month of January, Hardaway posted the following shooting lines: 1-of-5, 4-of-13, 0-of-12, 3-of-11, 4-of-15, 11-of-14, 12-of-20, 8-of-12. It’s just as fascinating to watch as it is maddening. It’s especially funny to think about this idea when, on the season, Hardaway has been just as good a shooter, if not better, than he was a season ago. Entering the Hawks game, he was shooting 39 percent from three and over 50 percent on his twos.
Against the Hawks in Atlanta on Wednesday night, that coin landed on “good.”
Hardaway scored 22 points, making 5-of-10 three pointers, which was crucial for a Mavericks team desperate for anything to snap their six-game losing streak. What was so huge about Hardaway’s night wasn’t just the final stat line, but the way he did it. He provided offense during a stretch the Mavericks have utterly failed to provide all season.
For the season, when Luka Doncic is on the court the Mavericks score 112.8 points per 100 possessions, not far off from their record breaking offense last season. When Doncic is on the bench? That number plummets to 101 points scored per 100 possession — which would rank the worst offense in the NBA.
“We didn’t have no let ups early in the fourth,” Hardaway said after the game. “We came out knocking down our shots, we still stayed aggressive.... just making sure we kept our foot on the gas, drive to the basket and stay aggressive on the offensive end and try to make plays when we knew they were going to trap Luka.”
With 6:51 left in the third quarter, Hardaway checked in for Dorian Finney-Smith. The Mavericks were up 65-61 and Luka Doncic was still on the floor. In the next three minutes, he hit two 3-pointers while Doncic stayed in the game. With 1:31 left in the third, Doncic checked out and the Mavericks lead was only 79-78. Doncic would not return to the game until 9:31 left in the fourth quarter. In that short stretch, Hardaway scored seven points on 3-of-4 shooting.
For that entire stretch, when Hardaway checked into the third quarter to when Doncic checked into the fourth quarter, he shot 5-of-6 from the floor and scored 13 points. That’s 13 points in about nine minutes of action. Instead of Doncic checking into a game that was veering out of control, the Mavericks were up by 10, 95-85. It’s felt like the first time Doncic had significant help all season.
These weren’t just spot-up, catch and shoot looks either — with Doncic out of the game, Hardaway created his offense with drives to the rim and pull ups out of the pick and roll.
Of course, the coin of the cosmos works in mysterious ways, so Hardaway missed some wide-open threes down the stretch that allowed the Hawks to attempt a furious comeback. So goes the life of a shooter. Thankfully the Mavericks averted a crisis thanks to a strong final quarter from their two stars in Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but if it weren’t for Hardaway’s scoring burst earlier, who knows where the game would have been in the final seconds.
When the Mavericks traded Seth Curry for Josh Richardson and focused on acquiring wing defenders in the offseason, it was a statement of confidence in the guys coming back that they could repeat the success they had shooting the ball from last season’s record setting pace. That hasn’t worked out so far, obviously, as the Mavericks are now just 9-13 on the season. But these past two games for Hardaway marked the first time he’s shot 50 percent or better from the floor and 40 percent or better from three in back-to-back games since the end of December.
Maybe the mythical coin’s curse broke against the Hawks. Maybe it will land on the wrong side Thursday against the Warriors, it’s hard to say. For one night at least, Hardaway was damn good and just when the Mavericks needed it the most.