The Mavericks went after James Harden
James Harden knows a thing or two about attacking. He is annually the league’s leader in free throw attempts, one because of his aggressive style, and two because of his propensity to…exaggerate contact and bait people into fouls.
A common cliche about basketball is that you want to attack the teams best offensive players on the other end. It’s similar to a boxer working the body to tire his opponent out. And in this particular case, it’s a good idea because of James Harden’s particular apathy for the Defensive end of the court.
I’m not on the Mavs staff, but it certainly seemed like this was a point of emphasis for them. The Rockets, being a team who likes to switch a lot defensively, would give them ample opportunity to attack the reigning league MVP, and the Mavericks happily obliged, baiting him into his third foul with 4:17 remaining in the first quarter.
“Well, when he picked up two, I mean obviously we are going to try and get their best player in foul trouble.” Dorian Finney-Smith said when asked about them seeking out Harden. “But he still finished the half. So I don’t know how good we did it.”
He certainly was right about that. A large reason of why this game was so close, was because of their inability to separate from the Rockets while Harden wasn’t on the floor. He wound up playing his usual 37 minutes and finished with only four fouls, and the Rockets typically porus bench were actually all positive in the plus/minus.
It wasn’t enough to cost them the game, but it’s something going forward they can’t allow to happen.
You can add Jalen Brunson to the Mavs stable of young players.
Before this year started, when we thought of the Mavs young core, we thought of two names: Dennis and Luka.
24 games into this season, and I think we can effectively say we have added three guys to that group: Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith, and now, Jalen Brunson.
With Dennis Smith Jr. sidelined due to a wrist injury tonight, it was expected the Mavs roll their jumbo lineup with Luka playing point guard out there. Instead, Carlisle decided to throw second round rookie Jalen Brunson into the fire.
We already knew Brunson was both an accomplished and polished young player. So, it wasn’t expected that he would enter the game and look lost, but I don’t think many predicted the impact on the game he would wind up having.
“This start tonight, he earned.” Coach Carlisle said of his rookie point guard after the game.
And the youngster repaid that trust.
He finished with 13 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals while posting a +11. There were numerous huge plays he made on both ends, most notably a savvy backdoor cut and sweet finish to effectively put the capper on an amazing comeback victory.
His game and role on this team are very reminiscent of Devin Harris’ over the years. Obviously with Devin being on the last legs of his career, it doesn’t seem like a stretch that Brunson will likely assume his role when he hangs them up.
“Um…I think he won a lot more than I did going up.” Harris joked when asked about possible similarities between him and Brunson. “But he’s a definitely a player who knows how to play the game. He has a quite confidence about himself, and he’s just effective out there.”
He didn’t answer it directly, but based on his assessment it seems he agrees with us.
The Mavericks absolutely stole the game, thanks to Luka Doncic.
As the game was winding down, I was writing this point titled “The better team won tonight” referring to the Rockets, and what seemed like their outright control of the game. It was their style, at their tempo, and their stars kept tossing in soul crushing buckets to keep the Mavs at bay. It was the typical “better team asserts themselves late on the road” type of performance.
But man, I have never been so glad to be wrong.
After what was a sluggish start to the game, going 3-13 through about the first 45 minutes of it, Luka went ballistic and straight up rescued the Mavericks down the stretch with a personal 11-0 run to close out the game.
They had no business winning this game, but as we learned through 20 years of Dirk, when you have a special player like this, games are never too far out of reach.
“It was special.” Coach Carlisle said of Luka’s heroics. “He’s got a flair for the moment, which is something you really don’t see everyday.”
What we are witnessing from a 19 year old is very, very rare. Enjoy it. Teammate and buddy Dorian Finney-Smith certainly did.
“It was like a movie, man. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it.” He said. “It seemed like he didn’t make no shots foreal, but then like the last five minutes, he just started banging ’em in. You know that step back a little lethal.”
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