DONUT 1: To understand what led to the win you need look no further than the final 5:24 of the game.
This is in no way meant to disparage the previous moments of impact – we hate it when people say "all you need to watch is the final two minutes''; really sir? Your demanding microwave-oven life is that busy?
Without some of the earlier goings-on -- such as the defensive shove in the second quarter, Dirk Nowitzki's dominant offense in the second, or Caron Butler's swell in the third -- the final minutes would have had little significance. We'll discuss those momentarily, but the game was won, the season maybe even epitomized, in those final five minutes and twenty-four seconds.
That's when, as Dallas coach Rick Carlisle says, "it was basically pitching a shutout.''
At that moment, Dallas trailed by nine points, 99-90.
The Kings were shooting 51.3 percent for the game and seemed to find an answer for every Dallas push. For most of the night, the Dallas defense that had entered the night as the league leader in opponents field-goal percentage (42.8) and stood second in points allowed (91.6) couldn't consistently get the stops it has become accustomed to.
There was every reason to sink in the frustration, chalk it up as one of those nights you wash away in the visiting locker-room shower and move on.
Then, with 5:24 left in the game, Carlisle called a timeout … and everything changed.
Dallas scored six unanswered points to forge the beginning of what would become a 15-to-4 run that would turn that nine-point deficit into an eighth consecutive victory.
The defense popped its neck, hardened its gaze, flexed its muscles and crushed the Kings' will, holding them to a 2-of-9 finish … highlighted by the final play of the game.
Sacramento inbounded the ball with 11.5 seconds on the clock. The ball found its way to Carl Landry's hands. Landry got around Dirk on the perimeter only to find Tyson Chandler sliding over and closing any lane that may have once been.
With nowhere to go, Landry leapt into the air, search for an out and found only another closed lane … Jason Terry picked off his errant pass, hurled the ball forward towards Jason Kidd and the game was over.
What was said in the huddle to set it all up?
"There was about 1:15 left and I told the guys, ‘Look, from here on out, they don't score,'' said the proprietor of Chandler's Heart-and-Soul Food
Diner. "They ended up scoring one basket, but we did an excellent job of making it tough on them."
Corrected Jet: "Do you want me to tell you what he really said? ‘Go night-night,' that's what he said. ‘Go night-night.'"
A win … not exactly as designed … but a win none the less.
And everybody went night-night.
DONUT 2: So, what of those previous moments of impact? Two of them came in the second quarter.
We'll begin with where this team has attempted to define their identity: defense. … what Terry and Carlisle, so very much speaking the same language now, both call "Mavericks Basketball.''
The Kings sprinted out of the gate by shooting 19-of-29 (65.5-percent) over the first quarter and into the second as they jumped to a 12-point lead.
As it did to end the game, the Dallas defense then imposed itself on the Kings, who went 3-of-16 (18.7-percent) from the floor to end the first half, and the Mavs cut the lead to one.
Also in the second quarter, Dirk Nowitzki got hot. Of his game-high 25 points (tied with Tyreke Evans), 15 came in the second quarter on 6-of-7 field-goal attempts.
Dirk finished with 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting, five rebounds, five assists and one huge block late the in game when Tyson Chandler again provided some help defense in the form of a wall between Landry (again) and the rim, allowing Dirk to move in for the swat.
"Dirk got his hands on the ball, his man drives, I rotate, get the steal. It's just like we draw it up in practice every day,'' says Terry. "Mavericks Basketball.''
DONUT 3: Speaking of Dirk's scoring: early in the contest Nowitzki moved up a spot in the NBA's all-time scoring list, surpassing Hal Greer to be No. 26 … yes, only 25 players in the history of the NBA have totaled more points than Dallas' own Dirk Nowitzki.
Next up at No. 25: Larry Bird … only 182 points away.
DONUT 4: With 11.8 seconds remaining in the game and Dallas up two, 105-103, J.J. Barea stepped to the free-throw line for two attempts … and missed them both.
Thanks to the help defense from Chandler and the steal by Terry, this needn't be a moment that haunts Barea.
Prior to this moment, Barea was having another strong performance with seven points, six assists, three rebounds and one steal … and was tied with Jason Terry for the leading plus/minus stat on the Mavs: +9.
Two items worth noting here:
*Don't make JJB a whipping post today; he was central to the Dallas comeback, Carlisle recognizing that his skill set fits Sacto.
*Immediately after missing the pair – really, something that shouldn't happen to a 5-10 point guard shooting 80 percent from the line – Tyson Chandler rushed to the kid to give him a hug of encouragement. To us, that's as critical an angle as the actual misses.
DONUT 5: As a scorer, welcome home, Jason Terry!
Over the past six games, Terry had been averaging 10.7 points per, while shooting 35.4 percent. He'd managed to help the team in other ways – notice that he was on the floor as a defensive game-closer! -- but consistent scoring wasn't one of them.
Saturday, Terry went for 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting to go with three assists and a steal.
We say this often and we'll say it again: If the Mavs have four or five of their nine guys playing well at the same time, "depth'' actually matters and they can compete with anyone on any night. But man, it sure is helpful if Jet is one of the four or five.
DONUT 6: Caron Butler started the game slow. In the first half he was 1-of-6 from the floor for only two points, two rebounds, one assist and two turnovers (both on offensive fouls).
For the first time in four games Butler did not shoot 50 percent or higher, but he came close. Butler scored 11 points in the third quarter on 3-of-4 shooting. (The third quarter seems to be his bag now, maybe because he knows that Carlisle is going to give his spot to defensive ace Shawn Marion in the fourth quarter?)
Caron finished with 13 points, five rebounds and a steal in only 26 minutes of action.
Again, he didn't see the court in the final quarter as Carlisle turned to The 3-PG Attack lineup to close things out.
Personally, we would have liked to see Butler get a few minutes in the fourth after his play in the third … but understand the need for Barea's penetration, Terry's offense and Jason Kidd's defense on Evans (who only scored 2 of his 25 in the fourth quarter).
And … hard to argue with a win.
DONUT 7: The Mavs centers didn't dominate the paint … at least not until they had to … but they did have a generally sound game.
Tyson Chandler scored 10 points, seven rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block.
Brendan Haywood added nine points, two rebounds and three blocks.
And, their minutes were split almost right down the middle: Chandler (24.5) and Haywood (23.5).
Both had their moments at both ends of the court with big blocks and powerful dunks.
Yet, it was Tyson Chandler who deserves the praise that landed on Haywood in the previous game. Particularly late in the game, Chandler was a ghost haunting any who dared enter the paint. His help defense not only protected his teammates, it won the game.
DONUT 8: Saturday night marked only the fourth time a team has scored 100 or more points against Dallas … and 103 matched the most they've given up all season.
Sacramento also scored 37 points in the first quarter, the most any opponent has put up in a single period against Dallas.
"It was a disappointing start,'' Carlisle says. "It was our worst defensive quarter of the season, giving up 37 in the first.''
DONUT 9: Jason Kidd continues to struggle with his shot. Already hovering around his career worst field-goal percentage (37.2 percent prior to the Kings game), Kidd went 2-of-10 Saturday night, including only 1-of-8 from behind the arc … and a few of those 3-point attempts were truly ugly.
Yet, when the game was on the line, he was clutch enough.
With 28.7 seconds left in the game and the Mavs up two, Kidd calmly walked to the free-throw line and sank both of his attempts, building the lead to four. And, we should add, he's the guy who finally put the lid on Tyreke, an athletic freak who is eventually vulnerable to the likes of Kidd because he plays with the savvy of a Kindergarten dropout.
In retrospect, we might prefer that some of those J-Kidd desperation treys in the final quarter be shot by somebody else (Dirk, say, could've had more touches.) But we understand that we must live with the occasional Kidd Knuckleball, and that with a six-game home stand starting up, Jason can get into his gym and get comfy with his shot.
DONUT 10: Speaking of hanging out at the AAC ... we're throwing our DB.com Night at the Mavs on Dec. 28! It's Raptors at Mavs, and tickets that are now going for up to $22 apiece can be had in the DB.com Store! for ... well, pretty much for free. Because for $22, you get TWO tickets, the special-edition T-shirt, and a meet-and-greet at the game! Check it!
DONUT 11: That, right there, is probably as well as the 4-14 Kings can play (if that is any solace to the worried Mavs fan). Old friend Paul Westphal stuck DeMarcus Cousins and Beno Udrih into his starting lineup, but this thing is still the Tyreke Show … and the kid's head simply isn't screwed on very tight. Either is Cousins' – watching him pout and pose was entertaining for us but not very productive for them – and somebody might want to remind him that he's a rookie who has done nothing.
DeMarcus does get one or two things right, though:
"They're one of the best teams in the league,'' Cousins says, "but we had the game won.''
DONUT 12: The final score doesn't give it away, but Sacramento entered the contest against Dallas with a 2-8 record at home.
Dallas came with a 7-1 record on the road.
It was close, but the trends did hold.
Another trend that held … this was the seventh straight victory over the Kings by the Mavs.
DONUT 13: Both teams were on the tail end of back-to-backs. Sacramento lost badly Friday night in Los Angeles to the Lakers, 113-80 … while Dallas plowed their way to a victory in Utah, 93-81.
The Mavs are now 4-0 on the second night of back-to-backs this season. We made the argument on the FS Southwest "Mavs Live'' pregame show – and we're sticking with it – that given the light minutes recorded by Kidd, Chandler and Caron the night before, the Mavs were really playing on the second night of a "half-and-back,'' that this shouldn't have been the same as the usual b2b burden.
After giving up 37 in the first, we guess some Dallas players' minds and bodies didn't feel the same way. … and that it took until the final five minutes and twenty-four seconds for the minds and bodies to get caught up.
Or maybe it's not about minds and bodies. Maybe it's about "spirit.''
When you're going good and your spirit is really good,'' Carlisle says, "you win games like this.''