The Dallas Mavericks 120-113 win against the Memphis Grizzlies Monday night was one the Mavericks had to have. It didn’t matter that role players were dropping like flies from one injury after another before and during the proceedings at the Fedex Forum. The Mavericks had already dropped a disappointing loss to Memphis a month prior and needed to stack wins where possible to give guys like Kyrie Irving and Tim Hardaway Jr., who was a late scratch with back spasms, a chance to get right without costing the team in the win-loss column.
Luka Dončić put Dallas on his shoulders, nailed his 1,000th career 3-pointer and played the role of professional wrestling heel with the Memphis crowd on the way to the win. Dereck Lively II shined on both ends of the floor, and role players stepped up to keep Memphis at arm’s length down the stretch.
The Grizzlies, who came into the matchup at 29th in the NBA in 3-point shooting, hit their first three attempts to jump out to a quick 9-4 lead.
The play of Lively inside was the answer for the ailing Mavericks in the first. Everything good that happened in the game’s first six minutes for the Mavericks happened because Lively made it happen. He scored on three vicious jams, assisted on a Derick Jones Jr. dunk on a strong cut through the lane, and got a chase-down block that was probably a goal-tend, but hey, we’ll take it. Lively’s thunderous finish on a lob from Dante Exum with 7:40 left in the quarter gave the Mavs their first lead, 10-9.
Lively finished with 16 points, 16 rebounds and a blocked shot in the win and qualified as the league leader in field goal percentage (73.5%) with his 8-of-9 night from the floor.
Jaren Jackson Jr. was a problem with a capital “P” all night inside for the Grizzlies. Every time the Mavs tried to string defensive stops together and extend their lead, Jackson would grab an offensive board or dominate the Mavericks’ frontcourt on a drive through the lane and accumulate another bucket on demand. He had 21 points in the first half and finished with 41 points and four boards, just a bucket shy of his career-high points output. It was his second 30-point performance against the Mavericks this season.
With under a minute left before halftime, Dončić went wacky. He gathered the ball back from his knees, close to halfcourt after it had been poked away from him by Grizzlies guard Zaire Williams and quickly launched a pass to Exum for a corner 3-ball that put the Mavs up 65-48. On the ensuing Memphis possession, Dončić drew a charge on Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane. The next trip down the floor, he gave Memphis forward Xavier Tillman some Hakeem Olajuwon Dream Shakes before getting a shooter’s roll on a jumper. Dončić led the Mavs with 35 points on 5-of-10 3-point shooting, eight rebounds, six assists and one technical foul late in the game as he began to antagonize both Grizzlies forward Vince Williams Jr. and Grizzlies fans in the game’s waning moments.
Dallas took the 67-51 lead into the locker room and set it on cruise control in the second half. The Grizzlies were able to get within 10 points of the lead on a couple fourth quarter runs, and Williams’ long 3-ball with 46 seconds left got Memphis to within 117-110, but the Memphis roster as currently constructed just isn’t built to complete a comeback.
Here are four lingering thoughts from a game the Mavericks will have to file away quickly as they host the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.
The injury bug strikes yet again
The game against the Grizzlies looked like it would be a big one for Mavs forward Derrick Jones Jr. In four games without Kyrie Irving in the lineup, Jones came into Monday’s matchup averaging more than 20 points. He was answering the bell with five points in the first quarter until he got a knee to the thigh while trying to fight around a screen with just over five minutes left in the opening frame.
Jones was designated as questionable to return with a quad contusion at halftime but did not return to the game. The Mavs PR team announced during the third quarter that Jones was available if Dallas needed him to return, but thankfully they did not. That announcement would seem to bode well for Jones’ availability Tuesday against the Lakers.
Dončić also took some licks in the win. He collided with David Roddy near midcourt in the first quarter and appeared to favor one leg for a moment afterward. He winced in discomfort and limped for a few more steps after his 1,000th career 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter as well. Just something to keep an eye on.
The bench steps up
The injury to Jones made it all the more crucial to get good production from guys like Seth Curry, Dante Exum, Olivier-Maxence Prosper and Jaden Hardy. And to a man, they all answered the bell.
Dončić found Prosper open for a corner 3-pointer with seven seconds left in the opening frame that got him back on the good foot after a badly missed 3-point attempt in transition a minute earlier, to make the score 29-24 Mavericks after one. Prosper had been in a little bit of a Jason Kidd Timeout in recent games but scored five in the first quarter in Memphis. He finished with a season and career-high 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-6 from 3-point territory.
Exum picked Grizzlies point guard Derrick Rose’s pocket and rumbled down the court for an uncontested big-boy jam with just under nine minutes left before half to put Dallas up double digits for the first time, 41-31, and force a Memphis timeout. Just a couple minutes later, Exum found a trailing Dončić in secondary transition for a deep 3-pointer that put the Mavs up 47-35. Exum has been great in forcing the pace since he’s started getting more regular rotation minutes the last few games.
The Aussie currently making a case for fan-favorite finished with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting and six assists in the win.
Jaden Hardy was another spark for the Mavs when they needed one in the short-handed situation. He made his first three 3-point attempts in the second quarter and scored 11 in the first half. Hardy finished the game with 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting from deep. It was shades of the last 21 games of the 2022-23 season for Hardy, when he averaged more than 13 points per game, and we love to see it.
Inside-Out — A tale of two halves
The Mavericks built their lead in the first half on solid play inside, other than when they happened to be defending Jackson one-on-one. They outscored the Grizzlies 32-18 in the paint in the first half, but just 48-42 including the second half, as Jackson continued to do damage on the block.
The Mavericks out-rebounded Memphis 25-18 in the first half Monday and 51-45 after all was said and done.
All this was happening while Memphis, one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league mind you, suddenly heated up from 3-point land to stay within shouting distance. The Grizzlies made five 3-pointers to just one for the Mavericks in the first quarter, but by the end of the game the Mavs had made up the difference. Memphis shot 18-of-44 (40.9%) from distance in the loss, while the Mavs shot 17-of-40, or 42.5%.
Lively is the center of it all
And at the center of it all, if you’ll excuse the bad pun, is Lively. If Dončić is the Mavericks’ resident force of nature, Lively is the gravitational pull of Dallas’ attack on both ends of the court right now. The Mavericks would be unwatchable without his presence in the middle.
In December, Lively is averaging more than 11 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. It’s everything Dallas hoped for when it selected the 19-year-old with the 12th pick of June’s NBA Draft.
The Mavericks will need to file this one away quickly, though, as they will host the recently crowned In-Season Tournament champion Lakers Tuesday at the American Airlines Center in the second night of a back-to-back.