If Wednesday’s 114-105 win against the Chicago Bulls showed anything, it’s that even the great ones like Luka Dončić have an off night now and then. It’s a pretty neat trick for the Dallas Mavericks to be able to pull out wins when he does, especially with the team’s second-leading scorer, Kyrie Irving, sidelined with a sprained foot for a second straight game.
If there has been anyone even more consistent in his level of play than Dončić through the four-game winning streak the Mavericks are on to start the season, it’s been Tim Hardaway Jr. That’s right, Old Reliable.
Hardaway scored 24 points Wednesday to help pick Dončić up on a night when Chicago sent double-team after double-team in his direction to force the star guard into 5-of-16 shooting. The Mavericks’ other beneficiary of the constant double-teams was Grant Williams, who finished with a game-high 25 points.
Take it from Bulls head coach Billy Donovan—guys like Hardaway were a problem for his team in the Bulls’ visit to Dallas.
“I thought the difference in the game was [Tim] Hardaway [Jr.], and Derrick Jones [Jr.] and Grant Williams,” Donovan said. “They combined for 17-of-31 from three.”
Hardaway, the 31-year-old forward in his sixth year with Dallas, has scored at least 17 in each of the four season-opening wins, providing much-needed stability and scoring punch as coach Jason Kidd tinkers with lineups around him. He’s consistently taking 3-pointers in rhythm, as Dončić sucks defenders into his web with every devious dribble.
It almost looked easy as Hardaway went 7-of-13 from deep against Chicago. That’s why Hardaway is shooting better than 43 percent from 3-point range to start the season and you’ve barely noticed. The four games of 17 or more points per game to start this season is Hardaway’s longest stretch in his career at that level of offensive productivity while coming off the bench.
Hardaway scored 15 of his 24 points in the second half Wednesday. His offense was a big part of the reason the Mavericks outscored the Bulls 33-22 in the final frame to take control of the game late. Dallas is currently plus-23 in the fourth quarter through the first four games of the season. That’s first in the league in fourth-quarter total point differential.
Mavs fans have not shied away from speculating about the possibility of the team moving on from Hardaway at every possible juncture over the last few seasons. It’s become a trade deadline tradition in recent years. This year the chatter around Hardaway’s role on the roster is that he’ll have to be moved at some point so that developmental plays on the roster like Josh Green and Jaden Hardy can be properly figured out. Or that he should have already been moved so that Green and/or Hardy could soak up the 28.5 minutes per game Hardaway is currently accounting for.
And that may well come to pass at some point. It may well come to pass this season. But as streaky as his shooting has been at times over the years, Hardaway has been one of the most consistent, steadying forces on the roster as the Mavericks have gotten off to the best start to a season in 18 years. Maybe having too many guards is a good thing?
Enjoy it, Mavs fans. This is the good stuff.