Earl K. Sneed recaps the Mavericks' runaway home win over Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and the New York Knicks, after the Dallas squad responded to their coach's pre-game criticism.
DALLAS — Despite his team’s 19-3 record in its previous 22 games coming into Thursday night’s nationally-televised showdown with the new-look New York Knicks, the three losses are what stuck out in Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle’s mind.
More specifically it was the squad’s inability to close the door on its opponents in those three defeats, after the Mavericks experienced their third one-point loss — a 93-92 defeat in New Orleans — in that stretch on Wednesday night. With that said, Carlisle didn’t stop short of calling out his team to finish the job against All-Star forwards Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and the rest of the Knicks’ henchmen, as the Mavs tried to bring a successful end to a stretch of four games in five nights with the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers coming to town on Saturday.
“I reiterated to [the players] that what they’ve done over the last four weeks has been terrific. We really have taken care of business,” Carlisle explained in his pre-game address to the media. “But the challenge at hand is becoming much more difficult … I just know that in this league it’s so competitive that your posture and disposition and approach has got to be absolutely focused and absolutely consistent.”
With plenty of motivation coming from their coach, the Mavericks’ players took the court hoping to repeat a 113-97 win in New York on Feb. 2. But the Mavs knew the challenge would be much greater the second time around after Anthony joined up with Stoudemire just before the trade deadline.
The Mavericks (47-18) would in fact answer their coach’s call, however, utilizing a balanced scoring effort and the highest-scoring half of the season in the first 24 minutes of play to cruise to a 127-109 victory.
“I think we all understood what he meant,” center Tyson Chandler said of his coach’s thoughts. “We understand that we’ve got to close out tough games. The last games that we’ve lost we’ve competed and the last three (losses) have been by one point. Those are all tough losses and when you have losses like that you’re gonna have frustration … It’s that time of the year when we have to focus on ourselves. We can’t focus on our opponent or who we’re facing that night. It has to be about us and it has to be able us as soon as we hit the floor.”
With sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic missing his second straight game due to stiffness in his neck, the Mavs would get a major boost from forward Shawn Marion, as the four-time All-Star would battle through sore ribs and start in Stojakovic’s place. And it would be Marion’s job all night long to shadow Anthony, hoping to shut one of the league’s top scorers down for the better part of 48 minutes.
“It was great news for us because this is a matchup nightmare with Carmelo,” Carlisle said of having Marion available for the game. “[Anthony] is a one of a kind scorer in the small forward position, he does it in so many different ways. He’s so dynamic, and you’ve got to have a similar type player to match up with him.”
The Mavericks would have to battle back from some early adversity, however, storming from behind after beginning the game in a 6-0 hole. Chandler would briefly put his team in front, scoring down low when matched up with Stoudemire. But the Mavericks’ big man would have to sit soon after, picking up two quick fouls in the early stage of the opening quarter.
Still, behind the play of Marion and second-year guard Rodrigue Beaubois, the Mavericks would take a 31-21 advantage into the second period, capitalizing after Anthony also picked up two fouls in the quarter. The Mavs shot close to 48 percent in the period, while holding the Knicks (34-30) to 22 percent shooting at the other end.
An emphatic slam by reserve swingman Corey Brewer would kick-start the Mavericks in the second quarter, while sixth man Jason Terry’s lights-out perimeter shooting put a large gap between the two teams on the scoreboard. The Knicks would then begin to unravel, after a double-technical foul call on Stoudemire and Mavericks big man Brendan Haywood would carry over to the New York bench, earning coach Mike D’Antoni a technical for arguing with officials.
Brewer and Terry would continue to carry the Mavericks in the meantime, getting a helping hand from point guard Jason Kidd from long range, as the Dallas advantage would reach as much as 24. The first half of play would then conclude with the Mavericks comfortably ahead, 72-51, when the game reached its midway point.
“I thought we played a good game. I thought we really attacked,” Carlisle said. “This is a team that goes up and down. You have to attack for great opportunities and consequently get into some high-scoring games.”
“They’re good at scoring a lot of points, so we had to do what we had to do to score a lot of points as well,” Marion echoed.
After posting a season-best 41 points in the second quarter the Mavericks registered their highest-scoring half of the season, surpassing a 68-point effort against the Indiana Pacers on March 4. Terry and Marion led the way, scoring 14 points and 12 points, respectively, in the first two quarters. Meanwhile, the Mavericks outshot the Knicks, 54 percent to 34 percent.
As they had to do in the first half, the Mavericks would again have to turn to Haywood in favor of Chandler after the starting center picked up his fourth foul in the first minute of the third quarter. The backup big man would take full advantage of the opportunity, however, with Chandler on the bench, as Haywood and Beaubois teamed to try to prevent a Knicks’ comeback in the quarter.
“I was very happy and excited for Haywood’s play. The big guys, I felt like we played a great role in tonight’s victory and that’s what I feel like it’s gonna take for us during the playoffs,” Chandler said.
Still, the Knicks would storm to within 13 as Stoudemire put his team on his shoulders scoring 18 in the period to cut the Mavericks’ lead to 99-85 heading to the final 12 minutes of play.
The Dallas defense would then thicken in the final stanza after the Knicks climbed to within 11, with Chandler playing through five fouls to help lead the defensive stand. Meanwhile, the offense flowed through leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki, as he came alive after three quarters that were pedestrian by his standards.
And fittingly it would be both Nowitzki and Terry delivering the final knockout blows, as the Mavericks got back in the win column less than 24 hours after a heartbreaking loss.
“We had a good lead at the half,” Nowitzki said. “In the second half we didn’t run away with it, but we were still able to close it out, so that was a good win.”
Nowitzki would lead the Mavericks to a season-high scoring output with 23 points on 7-of-19 from the floor, grabbing nine rebounds as well. Battling through his injury, Marion pitched in 22 points.
“The key to the whole thing was Marion being available to play. After last night, after he was thrown out of bounds, and he had a rib injury that’s been bothering him for weeks, we didn’t know if he was going to be able to go. The fact that he was meant that he could start the game with Carmelo. And then he gave us 22 points, which was big,” the coach explained.
“It hurts,” Marion said of the injury, “but it’s that time of the year, my teammates needed me and we sucked it up and got a win.”
Off the bench, Terry reached 21 points, giving the Mavericks five players in double figures after Beaubois’ 14 points and Haywood’s 12 points. The Mavs also finished the night with a 43-16 advantage in bench scoring.
Stoudemire would finish as the high-point man for the Knicks, tallying 36 points, while Landry Fields registered 19 points to go with 18 for both Anthony and Toney Douglas. With Marion hounding him, Anthony hit on just five of his 15 shots on the night.
The Mavericks finished the night outshooting the Knicks, 51 percent to 43 percent, while also holding a 47-37 rebounding edge on the glass. With their dominance on the boards, including 17 offensive rebounds, the Mavericks would rack up a 30-16 edge in second-chance points to accompany a 52-40 margin in points in the paint.
The Mavericks will now turn their attention to the two-time defending champion Lakers, looking to conclude a week full of tests against playoff contenders in the ultimate statement game. When the Lakers last came into the American Airlines Center on Jan. 19, the Mavericks sprinted to a 109-100 home victory to end a six-game losing streak. They’ll try to do it again after L.A.’s eight-game win streak came to an end Thursday night in Miami, falling for the first time since the All-Star break, 94-88.
Dallas has a 1 ½-game lead on the Lakers (46-20) for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoff picture.
“It’s the defending champs coming in your building, so it’s a big deal. To try and downplay it wouldn’t be being honest,” Carlisle said when looking ahead. “It’s an important game.”
“This week has been full of tough challenges, and it doesn’t get any easier now. The Lakers just came off a loss in Miami, so you know they’re gonna be ready to play. Yeah, it should be another fun test,” Nowitzki added.
Note: The Mavs will be back in action Saturday night, hosting Kobe Bryant and the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. The Dallas team will try to move to 2-0 against the perennial Western Conference power in a game that will tip off at 8 p.m. CT, airing nationally on NBA TV and locally on Fox Sports Southwest.
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