Despite having three full days off after a thrilling road win over the Houston Rockets, the Dallas Mavericks - on the way to a 124-117 OT win - didn't look very energetic in the first half of their nationally televised matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
The 'Mile High' altitude seemed to bother Luka Doncic and the Mavs on the offensive end, as they trailed the Nuggets 52-43 going into the break. That lack of energy changed for the Mavs in a big way as they headed into the second half, as they stormed back to make this one an overtime classic and an eventual win.
“Obviously this is a great win for us – much needed,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “After a not very great first quarter and certainly a poor ending to the first quarter, we hung in, we hung around.
“The second half we really played. We played both ends, we played unselfishly, we got the ball in the basket, we got big stops when needed, we had some guys made some hellaciously big plays.''
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Doncic was "hellacious'' - and masterful, as he usually is, finishing with 38 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds. Not only was Doncic's stat line impressive, but he was as clutch as ever down the stretch of overtime.
Having a three-point lead with 33 seconds left in the extra period, Doncic showed off his newly refined mid-range game, as he nailed a clutch shot to push the Mavs' lead to five points. Doncic then put the finishing touch on his performance by sinking both of his free throws with 15 seconds remaining.
Another area of Doncic's game that continues to grow is his defense. He finished with four steals and one block in this game. Aside from the stats, though, Doncic is generally just doing a much better job of staying in front of his man this season. We saw flashes of that individual defensive improvement during the NBA 'Bubble', so it's nice to see it carrying over to this season.
"I think my defense is growing day-by-day," said Doncic of his improvements on that end of the court. "I'm just trying harder, not letting anyone affect me, trying my best. I think it's going to grow every game."
Clutch games caused the Mavs a lot of problems last season, to put it nicely, so being able to secure a tightly-contested win on the road against a team that made it to the Western Conference Finals last season has to feel good for this team going forward.
"Like I said the last two seasons, we're going to learn from these things," said Doncic. "I've got to be a leader in those moments."
The Mavs have now won two consecutive games for the first time this season. Not surprisingly, this has come after Carlisle made a much-needed change to the starting lineup by moving Dwight Powell and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the bench in favor of Willie Cauley-Stein and Maxi Kleber.
Cauley-Stein didn't score as much as he did in his first start of the season, but his stellar defense on Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray off switches was a key reason the Mavs were able to pull out this victory.
Kleber was also huge down the stretch of regulation and overtime with his shot-making and clutch rebounding.
The Mavs will now return to Dallas for a two-game home stretch, starting with a game against the Orlando Magic on Saturday night. Orlando suffered another big blow to their roster this week, as point guard Markelle Fultz suffered a torn ACL that ended his season.
Dallas, now 4-4, seems to be finding itself here, just as Luka is finding his "legs.''
“These games are tough,'' Carlisle said. “But if you hang in and hang around and give yourself a chance - you’ve got guys like Doncic on your team - you can be dangerous.”