A Monday night showdown. The New Orleans Hornets arrived in Dallas with their record unblemished. But after four quarters that became increasingly more physical in nature and yet were finally determined 23 feet away from the baskets, the Horners return home having lost a close contest to the short-handed Mavs, 98-95.
Assorted First Impressions:
*Tyson Chandler faced his former team hoping to leave his mark, and though foul trouble limited his minutes, he was able to do so as part of a 13-3 surge that tied the contest at 90 with 3:30 left in the game, and a strong finish that ripped defeat from the hands of the Hornets with a 21-8 run to end the game and seal the victory.
*There were collisions throughout the game, and the physicality took a noticeable uptick in the third as the whistles began to rain down … sending the Hornets from zero team fouls to the penalty (5 team fouls) in under a minute as the quarter reached its midway point.
Yet this gift, combined with Chris Paul going to bench for the remainder of the period after picking up his fourth personal foul with 7:34 remaining in the third, came without the Mavs being able to capitalize … losing the quarter 24-22 and entering the fourth and final frame down seven.
*Beginning late in the third, a sudden barrage of 3-point shots changed the game. After enduring a first half that saw him falter by shooting 2-of-11 from the floor, Jason Terry began to catch fire and opened the fourth with back-to-back 3's plated by nice setup passes from JJ Barea.
Terry finished as the games leading scorer with 26 points, making 7-of-8 from the floor in the second half, four assists, one steal and one block.
* Dirk, who hit only his second three pointer of the season to tie the game at 90 with 3:31 left, was once again extremely efficient on his way to another double-double, his fourth of the season. Making 7-of-12 shots, he finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists.
In a rarity that's seemed less rare this season, Dirk again missed multiple free throws, including his final attempt that could have put the Mavs up four with seconds to go. Yet, it was Terry who again made a big play on the miss, tipping the rebound and running some precious time off the clock before leaving the Hornets only 0.7 seconds to erase a three-point defecit, 98-95.
* For the final desperation inbounds play, Chandler stood between Trevor Ariza and the floor … and then quickly turned to stand side-by-side with Shawn Marion in the face of Emeka Okafor -- as planned, the one guy on the floor Dallas didn't need to worry about -- who missed a 3-point attempt as time expired.
* Much like the Celtics game, we saw a new brand of Mavs basketball in the late going. This was a team willing to get physical and rely on its defense to seal the game. And, this was a team who rode determination into the extermination of the NBA's last remaining undefeated record.
*In the Rick Carlisle era, the Mavs are 38-12 when games are decided by five points or less. Ironically, they claimed Monday night's victory against the team with the second best record in those games. The Hornets have been 31-15 since 2008-09.
*Once again, JJ Barea continues to be a difference-maker of the positive variety. After a rough start to the season, Barea has rebounded with a handful of strong performances.
He finished Monday night with seven points, four assists, one rebound and zero turnovers.
However, in this game, the stats don't tell the entire story. Barea's aggressiveness and ability to find his way into the paint changed the flow of the game late, and it was his penetration that continually created space for shooters who'd found that space hard to come by earlier in the game.
*Shawn Marion once again got the start as Caron Butler gets closer to coming back from back spasms … and had his worst game as a starter this season. For the final clutch minutes, the Mavs left Marion on the bench in favor the three-point-guard lineup consisting of Jason Kidd, Terry and Barea.
Marion finished with only five points, went 2-of-6 from the floor, grabbed six rebounds and two assists. He also gave away five turnovers.
Still, as he has been all season, he was ready when called upon for the final play of the game to contest Okafor's 3.
*Jason Kidd was … well, he was Jason Kidd as we now know him. There were the to-be-expected six assists and eight rebounds. And, there was the 3-of-5 he shot from behind the arc, including a huge 3-point shot that put the Mavs up 93-90 with 2:35 left.
Kidd finished with 16 points, a season-high.
He was there again as a rebounder after New Orleans had stolen consecutive offensive boards in the final seconds, each leading to open Trevor Ariza 3-point attempts the could not find their target; when he grabbed a rebound and a foul with 3.5 seconds on the clock.
*Tyson Chandler may have not had his best statistical game, and his minutes were limited to 23 minutes by early foul trouble. Yet, he was a factor in this game, as he so desperately wanted to be against his former mates. His activity on defense, especially late in the game, ensured the Mavs did not allow the Hornets to reclaim the lead by going inside.
As always, he played with a contagious emotion. This was never more evident than when he was able to draw a foul on Okafor as they battled for a rebound attempt in the final minutes. As he sat on the floor, he did his best Manny Pacquiao imitation by throwing a flurry of punches into the air before him. (Forgive the analogy, but I just got done covering that fight!)
Even after picking up his fifth foul, TC was again their as a help defender when he picked up Paul, who attacked the top of the paint, contested his shot and forced a miss with 1:35 left.
Chandler was also a part of several physical plays, including one that saw Chris Paul drive into his side as he set a pick. Chandler tossed Paul to the ground by his head, but it was Paul drawing the foul first.
Chandler was also a part of some back and forth with Ariza late in the contest.
All of this is something more that the subtle "he sets good picks'' stuff we've heard and said about other centers. TC is impactful, whether he scores 10 points or not.
*Where Chandler's stats did not tell the story, Haywood's did … or almost did. Haywood did do a nice job protecting the paint at times, and caused a few misses by doing so. Yet, in just over 24 minutes, he totaled only one rebound, one block and more fouls and turnovers (two of each) than points (zero).
For everything great Haywood did Friday against the 76ers, he was not that player on this night.
On a positive note, he was a part of keeping Okafor to his lowest point total (five) since his scoreless opening night. And one more positive note: Fish reports that Big Wood was the first guy on the floor last night, putting in extra time working on catching interior feeds and on post-up moves. Let's hope the work pays off on another night.
*Unofficial Alley-Oop Count: You could easily say there were none, but Kidd did throw a lob in to Chandler early in the third quarter. Chandler caught the pass, brought it back to the floor before missing an attempt. So, one attempt with no conversions.
*Chris Paul scored 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first half. He finished the night with 22 points (only two in the second half), nine assists, three steals and four rebounds. Half-time adjustments? The effectiveness of the zone? JJB? Probably all three.
*The Mavs were outrebounded by the Hornets 52-42 (including team rebounds), 42-38 without, and totaled 15 turnovers. But here's a telling stat, and it goes in Dallas' favor, and it signifies what the Mavs' defense was able to do against a New Orleans strength: Dallas allowed just five fast-break points to the CP3-led team ... effectively killing that snake by cutting off the head -- and by cutting it off at the pass.