The Mavericks started the game very poorly, Tuesday night against the Miami Heat. That’s not really breaking news, it’s been something of a running trend for the team and Tuesday night was no different. Dallas was down 14-3 in the opening minutes and 39-30 when the quarter ended.
For the season, the Mavericks have a minus-1.8 net rating for the first quarter, which is not ideal for a team with greater ambitions than just making the playoffs. You’ve likely seen the stat repeated 100 times by now, but it truly is amazing — the Mavericks are 22-0 when leading after the first quarter. Which means they’re 15-28 when they’re trailing.
So another blah opening period wasn’t out of the norm, even with this recent Mavericks winning stretch. As the Mavericks have tried so hard to dig out of the hole from the COVID absences, the team has been pushed to the limits. Kristaps Porzingis has missed time with knee soreness, Maxi Kleber has been in and out of the lineup with various aliments and Josh Richardson tended to a bum hamstring. So many key players have played so many minutes and so many games since the start of February that it was only natural for the team to look worn out or for players to start missing games here and there.
This is why the second quarter against the Heat felt so fun. After months of fighting back up the standings, it felt like Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks tried something new for a sustained period. It worked! Rookie forward Josh Green played all 12 minutes of the second quarter and a new lineup that hasn’t seen much time ran the Heat off the floor. The lineup was Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Green, Dorian Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell. Here are the raw numbers for that group:
- 12 minutes played
- 38 points scored
- 14-of-20 field goal shooting
- 7-of-11 three point shooting
- Nine rebounds
- Eight Assists
- Four steals
- Three blocks
That’s quite the performance. Obviously the big differentiator is Green, who played the second-most minutes in a game of his young career. He didn’t score much, but he lit up the box score almost everywhere else — four rebounds, three assists and three steals. It was fun to see how Green’s energy and athleticism immediately changed the game for the Mavericks, who outscored Miami 33-15 in the second quarter. What was most notable was how Green’s athleticism brought a dynamism the Mavericks typically don’t have. No disrespect to Finney-Smith, Hardaway, Josh Richardson, or Jalen Brunson, but Green is explosive in a way no other player on the roster is. He can get off the floor quickly, get high above the rim and streak down the court faster than seemingly everyone else.
The problem with Green has been the other stuff, limiting mistakes and avoiding bad basketball plays in the limited action he’s got, being a raw 19-year-old bundle of energy. Green’s jumper is still anemic and his finishing around the rim needs to greatly improve, but what worked so well Tuesday night is that the Mavericks didn’t ask him to make a bunch of plays or hit a bunch of shots. Playing next to Doncic and Hardaway, Green was never tasked with being the best shooter, scorer or passer. With Finney-Smith flanking him on the wing, he also didn’t face the burden of being the best defender (or at least the only defender). Powell then balances things out as a bouncy center that has his own flaws, but plays really well off of other players and doesn’t need the ball to be effective.
This allowed Green to sort of fade into the background and just do what he does best. In Tuesday night’s case, it was use his youthful energy and sparkling athleticism to disrupt the Heat in various ways. The Mavericks defense isn’t the most aggressive, the scheme mostly plays the odds and entices teams to take shots from bad spots on the floor, mostly the mid-range. This can lead to the team playing on their heels a little bit, since it’s less about aggressively stopping their man and instead escorting them to a spot the Mavericks are comfortable with. Sometimes this leads to, well, teams going further than what the Mavericks are comfortable with and some bad results. With Green, his speed and bounciness sort of circumvents that whole idea and he just got up into the Heat players and forced the issue.
In addition to the steals, Green’s assists were fun. When Green has the ball, he’s always looking to push the tempo and keep things moving forward. There were the nice passes out to the corner, which he’s done before, and a nice drop-off to Hardaway for a fastbreak three. It was interesting watching this lineup really move against the Heat — for the season, the Mavericks average a little over 97 possessions per 48 minutes, good for 25th in the league. In the second quarter against the Heat, the Mavericks pace shot up to 100 possessions per 48 minutes. That mark would put them in the top half of the league for the season and it was really fun to see Green force the Mavericks sometimes slow and natural malaise into more up-tempo situations.
Green wasn’t the only one who thrived in this lineup. Doncic looked great surrounded by an elite shot maker, elite roll man and two guys who keep the ball moving, if nothing else. Hardaway got more looks in transition thanks to Green’s frenetic play and Powell probably had his best defensive game in a long time, using his speed and quick hands on the perimeter to throw a wrench into the Heat’s offense. Powell is still a broomstick with balloon arms guarding the basket, but he has suck quick feet and good hands, deploying him next to Green and playing a more aggressive style of defense really suits him. Also with Powell and Green on the floor, you have the roster’s two best “dirty work” guys playing together, which leads to moments of scrappiness the team has lacked a lot of times this season.
It’s hard to say if this lineup will stick. It’s just one game, one 12 minute stretch, but it sure was something to watch. The Mavericks should test this type of lineup out more and if not, at least give Green a bit more rope to play with. The Mavericks are still scrambling to avoid the play-in and the injury situation isn’t getting any better. Infusing the lineup with Green isn’t the worst choice in the world, especially if he can manage to replicate what we saw on Tuesday night.