Mavs All-Access: Back-to-Back, Back-to-.500
The Dallas Mavericks traveled to Houston to face the Rockets, who had won five of their previous seven games, though they were coming off a blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs the previous night, and on the back of a superstar performance from OJ Mayo the Mavs would walk away with their biggest road victory of this young season since opening day, 116-109.
Dallas got off to a hot start, leading by as much as 19 in the first quarter, before watching James Harden take over the game … and setup camp on the free-throw line (through three quarters, Harden had taken 15 free throws, compared to 13 for the entire Mavs team).
Houston would push their lead to 11 in the fourth quarter, before Mayo ultimately refused to allow his team to suffer defeat.
SOME SANDWICH WITH YOUR MAYO ...
The last time a player not named Dirk Nowitzki scored at least 40 points in a game for the Mavericks, it was an upstart rookie that now finds himself buried at the end of the bench: Roddy Beaubois against the Golden State Warriors on March 27, 2010.
Against the Rockets, Mayo put on a show in the first quarter, as the Mavs had their second highest scoring quarter of the season with 39 points, with Mayo personally contributing 16 points on 6-of-7 field-goal attempts.
As the Rockets made the bulk of their push in the middle periods, outscoring the Mavs 65-45, Mayo settled into the general Dallas malaise, hitting 3-of-10 shots for only eight points.
And then a funny thing happened: the fourth quarter began.
The tale has become so common as to almost become stale (not really). With the game on the line, the Mavs turn to one man. One man who would wipe the sweat from his forehead with a knowing nod, stare defeat in the eye, shrug and proceed to do whatever it took to rip a victory from its throat.
Mavs fans have seen it so many times before … only that man, Dirk Nowitzki, was tied to the bench, wearing a suit.
And, then he wasn't … he was simply inside another skin.
James Harden entered the fourth and final period as the story of the game, with 36 points on only 13 field goals. He was largely unguardable, as you can see here:
Now it was Mayo's turn to shine … again.
The Rockets pushed their lead to 11, and then Mayo and his teammates found some traction and did what they've done far too rarely this season … willed a victory from the surety of defeat.
Mayo wasn't alone, but he did lead the way with 16 fourth-quarter points, on 6-of-9 shots, including 2-of-2 behind the arc. Meanwhile, Harden contributed as many turnovers (3) as points in the period.
For the second time in his career, Mayo finished a game with 40 points. For the first time in his career, he did so as his team claimed the victory.
PLAYING THROUGH PAIN ...
Chris Kaman was a game-time decision due to a sprained ankle, which Carlisle said after the game, was purple.
Kaman carries a significant injury history with him, causing any mention of playing status being in doubt to offer an undeniable sense of concern, but he played through the pain here, though the injury would catch up to him and cause him to remain on the bench for the entire fourth quarter.
Kaman finished with 20 points and seven rebounds in only 18:35 of action.
Also worth mentioning is that he battled with the NBA's third leading rebounder, 11.7 per game coming into the night, in Omer Asik, and helped limit him to seven boards for the night in just under 20 minutes.
While we'll hope the complete health returns soon to Kaman – and Shawn Marion, who missed this game with a strained right groin – it was nice to see Chris gut it out and contribute to what would become a solid road win for the Mavs.
"Kaman showed a lot of guts even being out there," Carlisle said. "He went out there and gave us everything he had. He's obviously struggling laterally, but to put up the scoring numbers that he did is phenomenal. It's proves a lot to the team."
VANISH OR SHINE BRIGHTLY ...
Brandan Wright started for the 10th time this season. This is particularly interesting when you note that Carlisle has left him on the bench for the entirety of five games as well … such is the dichotomy of Wright's year: starter in half of the team's games, buried on the bench and unable to find the court in half of the other half.
Given that the Mavs are now 6-2 in games that Wright plays at least 20 minutes, we'll toss our hope out there that he continues to earn minutes.
Wright's rebounding woes have been well-documented here (he's grabbed one of fewer boards in six games this season), but it's hard to deny he isn't brining other things to the table … including being the Mavs most proficient inside scorer (he'd have the second best field-goal percentage in the NBA if he had enough attempts to qualify) and helping the team to have its highest offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) when he is on the court.
While not an elite defender by any standards, Wright also has the ability to act somewhat as a rim protector, as a help defender.
Wright finished with eight points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks … and led the Mavs in plus/minus at plus-22.
A HANDING OF THE TRUST BATON ...
Late in close games, Rick Carlisle has shown a propensity to turn to Vince Carter isolation plays, a clear sign of where Carlisle places his trust in the game's biggest moments: in the experience of a veteran that has earned that trust.
Thursday night, OJ Mayo hit the biggest field goal of the game before a slew of free throws put away the Phoenix Suns … but only after Carter had seen his share of chances and failed to come through.
We've decried Carlisle's decision to turn to Carter in these situations, especially considering how much more effective the current team's best offensive player, Mayo, has been in these isolation situations.
Coming into Saturday's game, Mayo led the NBA with 1.18 points per possession in isolation plays, and Mayo has remained in the top three for just about the entire season.
Meanwhile, Carter has had about half the tries of Mayo (24 to 49) and averages only 0.79 points per possession.
As you look a little deeper, Mayo's dominance in this area only becomes more solidified. On their isolation attempts, Mayo is shooting 52.3 percent, compared to 33.3 percent for Carter. Mayo's isolation plays result in a turnover 6.1 percent of the time, while 8.3 percent of Carter's do. Both players have hit half of their 3-point tries, but Mayo's done so in 16 tries, where Carter has only two.
The numbers, as well as the bulk of this season, say Mayo has been this team's best offensive player … particularly in the isolation situations Dallas has often turned to as they closed out games … but it's often been Carter they've turned to in the clutch.
Against the Rockets, we may have seen the impact of Mayo's closing shot against the Suns. With the game on the line, the ball was continually directly into Mayo's hands … and the results speak for themselves. Mayo finished with 16 fourth-quarter points. The Mavs erased an 11-point deficit and claimed a tough fought road win.
Have we seen the moment Carlisle allowed his trust to shift from the experience of Carter to the talent of Mayo?
For at least one night: yes.
Said Rick: "What he is showing over the first 20 games is that he has the ability to carry a team at times, and it was really impressive tonight.''
Dallas has now won back-to-back road games for the first time this season and is 4-7 on the road … To go with his career-high tying 40 points, Mayo also added a season high of eight rebounds … Roddy Beaubois played three seconds, committed a questionable decision that led to a foul and did not see the court again … Only two Mavs bench players posted a positive plus/minus. Dominique Jones played just under nine minutes and had a plus-1. Darren Collison may have had one of the ugliest passes of the season, a leaping attempt that sailed wild and out of bounds directed at no one in particular, but played fairly well otherwise (despite the runner that came up about a foot short late in the game) and finished with 12 points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals, two turnovers and a plus-1 … Dahntay Jones once again got the start at small forward in place of Marion and scored a season-high 8 points … Derek Fisher set a new season high, though only his fourth game, with five assists … Dallas won the battle of the boards, out-rebounding the Rockets 40-37, and limiting Houston to six second-chance points, less than half of their season average of 14.1 … this was the Mavs 10th starting lineup of the season, in 20 games.
THE DIRKIE ...
Well, we know OJ is going to win, right? You can vote on "The Dirkie,'' the official Mavs fan selection for Player of the Game, here.
THE FINAL WORD ...
As ugly as portions of this game were, with Dallas forfeiting a 19-point lead to trail by as much as 11, the result is what should be focused on.
And, in this case, the result was an impressive road win over a team that had been playing well as of late (despite being blown out the night before by the Spurs). Fans were treated with a vintage (there's that word again) Dirk-esque performance from OJ Mayo, and the team has the nice two-game winning streak.
To sum it up succinctly, it was a nice win. A nice back-to-back. A nice back-to-.500. A nice ride on OJ's back.