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2 huge hurdles the Mavericks overcame in their tense 131-129 win over the Orlando Magic

Let’s call this one a feel-good win because Dallas really needed a feel-good win.

Orlando Magic v Dallas Mavericks
Jaden Hardy #1 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts after hitting a three point basket against the Orlando Magic in the first half at American Airlines Center on January 29, 2024 in Dallas, Texas.
Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks (26-21) had an answer for the Orlando Magic (24-23) every time down the stretch Monday, after looking like they didn’t have a clue in the first half of their 131-129 win at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

After falling behind by 16 at the half, Dallas completed its largest comeback of the season so far against the Magic. Luka Dončić had yet another all-world performance, leading all scorers with 45 points on 12-of-23 shooting, 15 assists and nine rebounds.

Things got ugly almost immediately for Dallas in the first. The Magic went on a 16-0 run early in the first on the strength of Jalen Suggs’ 3-point shooting, Paolo Banchero’s playmaking and the impenetrable point-of-attack defense of fourth-year forward Jonathan Isaac. Isaac only played eight minutes as he works his way back into game shape after a lengthy injury absence.

Maxi Kleber found Jaden Hardy alone in the corner for a 3-pointer to keep the Mavs connected at 19-13, then Hardy hit another from the same spot on the next possession immediately after Dončić took a charge on the defensive end. That second Hardy 3-ball also came on a drive-and-kick that resulted in Dončić’s 3,000th career assist.

Hardy stepped up with some additional aggression on offense on a night when Kyrie Irving was out nursing a thumb sprain and Dante Exum and Derrick Jones Jr. also out against Orlando. He scored 11 of his season-high 20 points in the first quarter and hit four of his five 3-point attempts in the win.

The Magic took a 35-26 lead after the first quarter on the strength of 7-of-13 shooting from 3-point territory. For context, Orlando came into the game averaging an NBA-worst 10.7 3-pointers made per game.

Orlando rookie guard Anthony Black scored 16 points in the first half on 4-of-4 3-point shooting. Black is a local product, playing his high school play at Coppell and Duncanville. Just two seasons ago at this time, he was in the middle of a run to the Class 6A boys basketball state title less than 15 miles down the road. Now he’s torching the Mavs in the Association. Unbelievable. Banchero led the Magic with 33 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Black finished with 20.

Having to consistently depend on Hardy for offense and on Dončić to consistently guard Banchero on the other end was just not a favorable situation for the Mavericks, and it wasn’t one this shorthanded version of the Mavs looked all that equipped to battle back from at the time. The Magic built their lead to 15 a couple of times before halftime and took a 77-61 lead at the break. Orlando shot an astounding 65.1% from the field in the first half, getting wherever they wanted against the listless Mavericks defense and then knocking down shots like they were the Boston Celtics.

But something clicked for the Mavs in the third quarter.

Orlando Magic v Dallas Mavericks
Tim Hardaway Jr. #10 of the Dallas Mavericks goes to the basket during the game on January 29, 2024 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Midway through the third, Dončić found a streaking Tim Hardaway Jr. in transition for a layup that brought the Mavericks to within 10, down 81-71, and forced an Orlando timeout with 6:55 left in the frame. It seemed like this was the moment where being on the second night of a back-to-back set might start to catch up to the Magic. One possession later, Dončić found Grant Williams alone in the corner for a 3-pointer that made it 81-74. Hardaway hit another on the next possession to make it 81-77 with 5:45 left in the third, and it was game on.

Dallas took its first lead of the game with 2:38 left in the third, when Hardaway leaked out again and got behind the Orlando defense in transition. Luka found him on an 88-foot pass the length of the floor for a corner 3-pointer that made it 87-86 and gave Dončić his 10th assist of the game. To that point The Mavericks had outscored the magic 26-9 in the third.

Hardaway skied for a drive over Mo Wagner on the next possession and completed the 3-point play to put the Mavs up 90-86 and give Hardaway 23 points. He finished with 36 points and eight boards. He scored 28 of his 36 points in the second half.

Let’s start there for the first of our two big things from this game. The Mavericks outscored Orlando 35-12 in the third quarter to take a 96-89 lead into the fourth.

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23-point third-quarter swing

Hardaway scored 15 and Dončić scored 12 to key the Mavs in the pivotal third quarter run. The Mavs collectively hit 12 of their 19 field goal attempts in the third. They seemed to make it a point to get out and run with the ball in the third, outscoring Orlando 9-4 in transition in the frame after being outscored 12-5 in transition in the first half.

Dončić started the game searching for rhythm on offense but found all he needed in the third quarter. When his shot wasn’t going down, he found the open shooter for 10 assists before the third quarter was out and 15 for the game.

The Mavs went to a zone look on defense that seemed to call the Magic’s bluff, daring the Magic to continue their hot shooting if they could. In the third, they definitely couldn’t, as Orlando hit just 4-of-20 from the field in the frame. Dallas was outscored in every quarter but the third — the effort out of halftime literally won the Mavericks the game.

Touch and go in the fourth

If you thought the Mavericks would simply cruise to a win, you must be new here. Orlando immediately cut the Dallas lead to two in the first two minutes of the quarter. Hardaway pulled up for a jumper from the free throw line in transition to take the lead back, 98-97, with nine minutes to play.

Dončić nailed a 27-foot straightaway 3-pointer to keep the Mavs afloat, up 103-99 with eight minutes left, but the Magic weren’t going anywhere. Dončić nailed another from the wing to give the Mavs a 106-104 advantage less than a minute later. But Franz Wagner matched him on the other end to keep Orlando within one possession of the lead as the clock began to become a factor.

Orlando Magic v Dallas Mavericks
Paolo Banchero #5 of the Orlando Magic looks to pass the ball while defended by Maxi Kleber #42 of the Dallas Mavericks in the first half at American Airlines Center on January 29, 2024 in Dallas, Texas.
Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

Banchero and Franz Wagner hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Orlando the lead, 113-112, with under five minutes to play. But Hardaway answered with a 3-ball from the wing of his own to make it 115-113. The Mavs just always had an answer down the stretch where they couldn’t find the first clue in the first half.

There were 10 lead changes in the fourth quarter alone, and the Magic had a one-point lead with just over two minutes left to play when Dereck Lively II grabbed a rebound and got hit in the face by Magic forward Wendell Carter Jr. A lengthy officials’ review ensued while Mavs’ trainers cleaned the blood gushing from Lively’s schnoz, and when it was all over, it was a flagrant foul-1 on Carter.

That gave the Mavs four free throws to make three and possession. Lively stepped up and made two of four with a blood-soaked cotton ball protruding from his face, which put the Mavs up 120-119. Hardaway got fouled on a baseline jumper on the ensuing possession and hit two more free throws to give Dallas a little more cushion with 1:50 left.

Josh Green picked a great time for his first bucket of the game, on a stop-and-go drive with 1:08 left in the game to give the Mavericks a 124-119 lead. Dončić’s lob to Lively with 36 seconds left to play effectively sealed the win on the following possession. Lively matched a career-high scoring output with 20 points in the game, and he grabbed 11 boards as well.

Franz Wagner’s turnaround 3-pointer from Arlington was close at the buzzer, but the Mavs survived. Let’s call this one a feel-good win despite what closer analytics might tell us. Because the Mavericks really needed this feel-good win.

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