Mavs 116, Pistons 106: First Impressions
Coming into Sunday night's game, jokes about the incompetence of the Eastern Conference were strictly off-limits for the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs had dropped their last two games both against Eastern Conference teams hovering around and below.500. Last Wednesday Dallas blew a massive fourth-quarter lead against the Raptors and followed it up with a one-point loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday.
The Mavericks (entering at 25-20) continued their series of Eastern Conference opponents on Sunday against the Detroit Pistons (coming in at 17-26). The Mavericks had won nine of their last 10 games against Detroit and six straight in Dallas.
Still, though, no room to joke.
The Pistons still had the potential to pose legitimate problems for the Mavericks. Two consistent issues for this season's Mavericks team have been turnovers and rebounding against athletic frontcourts. The Pistons have been one of the best in the league this season at forcing turnovers and their frontline of Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond is about as large and athletic as you'll find in the NBA.
Both of those things proved to be an issue early as the Mavericks only had a 28-25 lead at the end of the first despite shooting 64.7 percent compared to the Pistons' 40.7 percent. That probably had something to do with the fact that Dallas had seven first-quarter turnovers and gave up seven offensive rebounds.
The Mavericks were able to cut down on both of those deficiencies in the second quarter thus allowing them to extend their lead at halftime to 56-46. The first half featured an impressive showdown between Josh Smith and Dirk Nowitzki. Smith had 16 points at halftime off of 7-14 shooting while Nowitzki scored 13 off of 6-10 shooting.
The third quarter saw Brandon Jennings challenging his former Milwaukee Bucks backcourt teammate Monta Ellis. Jennings had 12 points in the third and led the Pistons to a 35 point quarter cutting the Mavericks' lead to 84-81 going into the fourth. Jennings finished the game with 26 points and seven assists. Meanwhile, Ellis struggled offensively, failing to score in double-digits and turning the ball over far more than his assist total.
Jennings and Ellis have both had notable seasons thus far with their new clubs, but Sunday night it was apparent why the backcourt was largely unsuccessful in Milwaukee. Neither play what can be considered above-average defense and together they combined for 14 turnovers.
As you might expect from two of the league's most versatile forwards, Smith and Nowitzki were the most productive players on the court Sunday night, though neither were able to successfully guard each other. Smith finished the game with 25 points and eight rebounds and Nowitzki scored 28 points and pulled down nine rebounds.
Vince Carter celebrated his 37th birthday by scoring 13 points off the bench and Brandan Wright continued his extremely active an efficient play by scoring eight points without missing a shot.
Devin Harris had his best game of the season scoring 14 points and distributing seven assists.
"On a night when Monta couldn't really get it going, it's a godsend to have someone like Devin avalaible whose an experienced NBA player whose really done everything," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after the game. "He's been a starter. He's been an off-the-bench guy. He's been a guy that's had to score. He's been a guy that's had to be a top defender on his team."
All of this led to a 116-106 victory for the Mavericks.
While big man Monroe managed to successfully rebound and score in the post on Dallas, the Mavericks were able to hold Drummond in check holding him to just four points in 26 minutes.
Typically you're going to win just about any game when you score 116 points while shooting 58.1 percent. That's why the Mavericks were able to pull out a victory over the Pistons. But scoring and shooting percentages have not been the Mavericks' problems all season. Turnovers and rebound deficiencies have plagued them at various points. By giving up 17 offensive rebounds and turning the ball over 17 times the Mavericks put themselves in jeopardy of losing a game they should have won easily.
"We got to turn it over less," Carlisle said. "That's obvious. We were trying too many things that weren't there."
Dallas ended the two-game skid, but certainly didn't solve all of their problems in one game. What they did here had nothing with jokes about the East, but rather, for one night, about avoiding being the butt of jokes themselves.
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