The buzz was back in the locker room on Saturday night.
After snapping a four-game losing streak and putting an end to the Giannis-led Milwaukee Bucks by way of a 111-79 demolition from distance, those present post-game in the Mavericks’ locker room were free of the painfully quiet, awkward stretches that have plagued the hi-tech, redesigned space for the last week.
“It’s rejuvenating,” Wesley Matthews said after the win that was, in large part, buoyed by his 22-point, 6-of-8 from deep performance.
Matthews is an interesting figure for Dallas. Vocally, there’s no better team leader (other than Dirk or maybe Harrison Barnes). Defensively, he is the gold standard of what the Mavericks aim to accomplish, but he’s also fiercely competitive and can be short after a loss. A 2-14 record will do that to even the politest Mavericks.
After coughing up a double-digit lead on Friday en route to a 111-89 loss to Minnesota, Matthews was stone-faced, muttering to Devin Harris as the two got dressed and headed out. After Saturday’s win, it was time to don the Marquette gold shirt and talk trash with ESPN reporter Tim MacMahon.
In what has been a disappointing season so far, it’s not completely unfair to wonder if Dallas’ third win of the season was an aberration or a result of what the Mavericks are actually capable of producing night in and night out.
Consider the numbers; Dallas shot 50% from deep (19-of-38) in tying its franchise record for most made triples in a regular season game. The Mavericks also held Milwaukee to 79 points, its best defensive effort of the year. Antetokounmpo had 24 points and 17 rebounds, but it almost felt inconsequential.
Dallas was one night removed from an 8-of-38 effort from deep against Minnesota. Which Mavericks team do you trust to show up?
Per teamrankings.com, Dallas has had the 18th-toughest schedule to date, a number that is hard to believe given that 12 of their first 17 games have come against Western Conference opponents.
Though Dallas’ long-range shooting on Saturday generated plenty of oohs and ahhs, the real story was the Mavericks’ defense, limiting the Bucks to just six assists.
Milwaukee’s strategy of surrounding Antetokounmpo with length and shooting had worked well in the past four games, all Bucks’ victories, but Dallas did all it could to take Milwaukee out of its offensive flow, even resorting to the Hack-a-Henson strategy (John Henson finished 3-of-10 from the foul line). The Bucks shot 17-of-31 from the stripe and had just 13 assists to Dallas’ 27.
Perhaps more telling about this game wasn’t the fact that Milwaukee shot just 37% from the field and 24% from deep, but that Dallas’ bench outscored the Bucks’ reserves, 54-13. Head coach Rick Carlisle mentioned the word “force” in his postgame presser.
“I liked our drive and our force tonight,” he said. “I feel we really sustained that.”
It’s a term Carlisle has used even in a few of the losses before Saturday’s victory and it’s enough to give keen observes a sliver of hope that, despite another horrendous start to the season, Dallas is starting to get its collective act together. Or is it?
Regardless, Saturday was the kind of all-around effort the Mavericks have been trying to piece together all season. They were halfway there on Friday night before a profanity-laced tirade from Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau combined with a complete stagnation of the Mavs’ offense helped the Timberwolves rally for a 24-point win. Saturday represented the culmination of Dallas’ tinkering and, if nothing else, sustained focus. And force.
With the red-hot Boston Celtics in town tonight, the Mavericks will be dealing with a force of an entirely different nature. How they respond will shed more light on whether Saturday’s triumph indicates that the Mavericks really are a force to be reckoned with or if they’re merely in the eye of the storm.
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