In the first few minutes of Sunday night’s game against Milwaukee, it looked as though the Mavs had a one-way ticket to 0-6. But despite being without Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams, and a poor shooting effort from Wes Matthews, the Mavs were able to squeeze out a win over the Bucks in a 86-75 overtime win at home, moving the team to 1-5 on the year.
After Friday night’s frustrating loss to the Trailblazers, I wrote that the Mavericks were in deep trouble without Dirk in the lineup, and that I wasn’t sure whether or not Harrison Barnes was ready to step up and carry this team on his shoulders to a win. But Barnes answered that question here, as he dominated the Bucks with a 34-point, eight-rebound performance on 50-percent shooting.
Barnes was dynamite from the start, as he used his size and athletic ability to have his way with the Bucks D, even with Giannis Antetokounmpo, on him for a good portion of the game. It’s not every day that you face a defender like the Greek Freak, but Barnes handled him, and every other defender that Bucks coach Jason Kidd threw at him.
It wasn’t just Barnes who stepped up for the Mavs however. SmallBall starter J.J. Barea, came up huge, especially in the overtime period, tallying 21 points, six rebounds and five assists on eight of 18 shooting, including a 12-footer with a minute and half left in the overtime period to seal the game.
In a surprise move, Rick Carlisle inserted undrafted rookie Dorian Finney-Smith into the lineup for 32 minutes of game time. Finney-Smith didn’t fill up the stat sheet by any means (with 1-of-6 shooting but a +19), but he did the little things, and played great defense and made some big plays on both ends of the floor that were pivotal in the Mavs victory.
Said Carlisle: "Frankly, we wouldn't have won this game without him.''
Added Finney-Smith, who received Carlisle's game ball: "It felt good. It felt good to know that he trusts me enough to play me down the stretch. I’m going to keep this ball … probably put it in a case or something.''
(Here's Fish getting to know Dorian ...)
In a great team defensive effort, the Mavs limited the Bucks to just 26 points in the third quarter and overtime combined, a great deal of which had to do with the play of Andrew Bogut, who finished the game with a mammoth 16 rebounds. Bogut has yet to make an impact on the offensive end, but his performance protecting the rim and chasing down rebounds against the Bucks -- who led the NBA in points scored in the paint coming into the game -- was an absolute game-changer.
Because of the play of Bogut, as well as the keep-a-lid-on-'em perimeter defenders like Barnes, Matthews, and Finney-Smith, the Mavs were able to outscore Milwaukee in the paint 36-28 in the game, despite being outrebounded 51-46 overall. Dallas forced the Bucks in 27 turnovers and held them to 36.6-percent shooting from the field, including just 20.7 percent from downtown.
Despite a hot start from Jabari Parker, the Mavs were able to hold the lottery pick to just 16 total points, and shut him down for the most part after the first quarter. They also held the Greek Freak to just 11 points and seven boards on 33-percent shooting, which was undoubtedly a big focus coming into the game. Greg Monroe did have a 14-point/12-rebound game off the bench, but the Mavs were able to minimize that effect with great defense on the other scorers.
It wasn’t all sunshine and daisies though, as outside of Barnes and Barea (two leading candidates for the Player of the Game as we finally get to vote and hand out The Dirkie) the Mavs struggled offensively, shooting just 37.5 percent from the field and 23.7 percent from three. But if they keep playing defense like this, they will have a much better chance at getting away with a shaky shooting performance.
And on offense? How to argue against Barnes, who has scored career-highs twice in the last five games?
"When you shoot it,'' Barnes reflected, "as coach says, 'Shoot it with conviction, and just let it fly.'''
The Mavs have a four-game road trip on the horizon that beings on Tuesday with the Los Angeles Lakers, and includes matchups with Golden State, the New York Knicks, and the Boston Celtics. So things are not going to get any easier, but for now, the Mavs can take a breath after capturing their first win of the season.