NEW ORLEANS – To the untrained eye, it didn’t look very good early on for the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night at Smoothie King Center.
Led by Derrick Favors, the New Orleans Pelicans performed a virtual layup drill en route to claiming a 16-point lead early in the second quarter. Then the Mavs regrouped, clamped down on defense and rallied to claim a hard-fought 123-116 triumph before a sellout crowd of 17,027.
Thus, the Mavs are 2-0 for the first time since the 2004-05 season and join Denver, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Clippers as the NBA’s only 2-0 clubs. And to keep their slate clean, the Mavs used Luka Doncic’s ninth career triple-double, Kristaps Porzingis’ five blocks, and Delon Wright’s five steals to show a national audience on ESPN that they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with this season.
With NBA commissioner Adam Silver in attendance, the Mavs fell behind 41-27 after the first quarter and 43-27 at the outset of the second quarter. From there it was as if the teams changed jerseys as the Mavs suddenly found their breakthrough and outscored New Orleans 45-23 in the second quarter to compile a 72-64 lead at the game’s midway point.
“I’ll start with just talking about the growth of a young team and what this game is really all about,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Giving up 41 in the first quarter was certainly unacceptable, and then our guys all got together and dug in the remaining three quarters.
“The two 23-point quarters (the Pelicans produced in the second and fourth quarters) basically defined the game for us. I’m proud of the team.”
Doncic was huge – again – as he collected 25 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He also registered a pair of critical back-to-back plays down the stretch that broke the Pelicans’ wings.
The Mavs were clinging to a 115-113 lead when Doncic carved his way inside the paint and scored. On the Mavs’ ensuing trip up the court, Doncic launched his patented step-back 3-point shot that banked softly off the glass and nestled through the nets for a 120-113 lead with 1:23 remaining in the game.
“I was lucky,” Doncic said of the shot that sunk the Pelicans. “Everybody knows I love this place.”
Following Doncic’ heroics, the Mavs still had some unfinished business to take care of. Particularly since Lonzo Ball’s 3-pointer left New Orleans only down by four points.
And when Wright stripped the ball from Josh Hart – he had just grabbed a rebound — with 18 seconds left and the Mavs nursing a five-point lead, that emphatically slammed the door on a game in which Wright collected 20 points, seven rebounds, three assists and his five steals.
“Delon Wright’s game tonight, we haven’t seen defense like that since Jason Kidd was here,” Carlisle said. “And the play at the end where he stole the ball on the rebound really was a microcosm of the night that he had.”
It also was a microcosm of a game where the Mavs picked up eight steals and forced New Orleans into committing 14 turnovers. The textbook defense by Dallas in the final three quarters was a far cry better than what happened in the first quarter when New Orleans made 18-of-25 shots for 72 percent while having their way with the Mavs.
“We gave up, I want to say, about seven easy layups in that first quarter,” Wright said. “But we were able to get some stops after that.”
The Mavs built a 90-79 lead late in the third quarter after Doncic fed Dorian Finney-Smith for a lob dunk and Maxi Kleber followed with a 3-pointer. But the Pelicans managed to keep things close until Doncic closed the door to help the Mavs go into Sunday’s home game against Portland brimming with confidence.
“Nobody really, like, panicked,” said Porzingis, who scored 17 of his 24 points in the first half. “We just kept playing our game. We knew they were going to make their runs, and they’re an aggressively team defensively.
“They always get their hands in there and they got a lot of deflections and stuff, and that’s how they get going. But we stayed patient. We didn’t panic.”
Jalen Brunson (14 points, eight rebounds) and Kleber (eight points, 10 boards) gave the Mavs some very meaningful minutes off the bench. And Seth Curry tallied all eight of his points in the fourth quarter, and also made a terrific block near the basket on a drive by Frank Jackson.
“Seth Curry was great,” Carlisle said. “He delivers in different ways. He was very good defensively.
“People usually just want to talk about his shooting and his float game and his playmaking, but he really held his own on defense. Look, everybody that stepped in there and did something positive once we got through the first quarter.”
And the Mavs hitched their wagon to those positive reinforcements and happily danced off the court with a road victory.
“As soon as I got back in the game (in the second quarter) I told everybody we want to step it up, and we want to put it in a different gear defensively,” Porzingis said. “And we got out there with more energy, with more intensity, more vocal, and that got our energy on defense up. We got a few stops and that got us going into the game. And we tried to keep that high energy throughout the game.”