The Mavericks thrilling comeback win against the Pelicans on Monday afternoon is probably no better example of the modern NBA’s “make or miss” mentality — in a five point win, the Mavericks made 18 three pointers and the Pelicans made seven. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.
Still, it’s not like those shots rained in from the cosmos at random intervals. Someone had to make those shots for the Mavericks to win, and the someone was actually a duo, with Kyrie Irving and Tim Hardaway Jr. each breaking the 40-point barrier. It was a shot making masterpiece from two of the Mavericks best shot makers.
The numbers are staggering when you list it all out. Irving finished with 42 points on 13-of-28 shooting, while Hardaway was right behind him at 41 points on 11-of-23 shooting. The two combined to hit 12-of-24 from three, with Hardaway accounting for nine of the 12 three pointers. Each went to the free throw line 10 times, with Hardaway a perfect 10-of-10 and Irving 13-of-15. Consider Dallas only scored 125 points — the Irving, Hardaway duo accounted for 66.4 percent of the Mavericks total points.
If you snapped every Mavericks player from existence except for Irving and Hardaway, a 120-83 result would have only tied for the worst Mavericks loss of the season (37 points, same as the 127-90 loss to the Jazz on Jan. 1). That’s nutty.
What makes it even more impressive was the type of shots Irving and Hardaway were forced to it. Playing without Luka Doncic, the offense was basically in those two hands. For Irving, that’s not uncommon — for the season Irving’s assisted field goal rate is 46.4 percent, and that number was roughly the same on Monday. Making something out of nothing, twisting himself into contorted and often contested jumpers is how Irving made his mark as one of the best guards in the league over the course of his career. Hardaway was a slightly different story — his assisted field goal rate is 78 percent, and against the Pelicans on Monday it dropped to 73. That five percent difference doesn’t sound huge, but when you consider the Mavericks won by two possessions, those extra unassisted buckets made all the difference.
NBA tracking data isn’t fool-proof, and closest defender data even less so. So take this all with a grain of salt. But according to the NBA’s data from Monday’s game, here’s how Irving and Hardaway did on contested shots: with the closest defender 0-2 feet away, Hardaway shot 1-of-3 and Irving 2-of-4. With the closest defender 2-4 feet away, Hardaway shot 4-of-10, 3-of-5 from three while Irving shot 4-of-7, 1-of-1 from three.
The pull up shot data is even better — the two combined to shoot 6-of-11 (54.5 percent) on pull up three pointers. Consider the best pull up three point shooters hover around 39-42 percent, and you realize how impressive the shot making was. Further proof: the duo combined to shoot an astonishing 6-of-12 overall and 3-of-5 from three on shots after seven plus dribbles. Seven! For perspective, Irving is shooting 47 percent on twos, 30.8 percent on threes after seven or more dribbles and Hardaway is shooting 40 percent on twos and 31.3 percent on threes.
At the end of the day, this type of performance is not a sustainable way to win basketball games. That doesn’t take away from how fun and breathtaking it was to take in at the moment. Dallas keeps surviving despite the injuries mounting, and sometimes not every game needs to be a referendum on the season. Are the Mavericks contenders? Are they one cold streak away from morphing into last season’s disaster? Truthfully, I don’t know. And if you’re a Mavericks fan, you probably shouldn’t care. Not at least until the team is fully healthy. For now, the Mavericks will keep bombing away, because it’s what they know best.