Kristaps Porzingis must have heard the chatter because he reminded everyone why the Dallas Mavericks traded for him in the first place during Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) February 9, 2021
In the Mavs’ 127-122 win, it was Porzingis who set the tone early. He was aggressive, hunting for his shots against the overmatched Timberwolves frontcourt. Porzingis also changed the game defensively, blocking and affecting a bevy of shots at the rim. And in playing well on both ends on Monday, he proved that when things are clicking, he can be the defensive anchor the Mavs need.
The game by the numbers:
Porzingis had a monster 27-point, 13-rebound, and six block night. In the first half alone he tallied 17 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and blocked five shots. For the first time all season, his game looked like the dynamic style he used to play while in New York before the countless knee injuries.
Kristaps Porzingis tonight:
He’s averaging 20/9 on career-highs 46 FG% and 85 FT% this season. pic.twitter.com/8pXbqmykVd
— StatMuse (@statmuse) February 9, 2021
Porzingis’ play changes the nature of this Mavericks team. When he is floating in and out of plays, and not making directly impactful decisions on the court, Dallas isn’t a real playoff threat. Porzingis takes the Mavs from a fringe playoff team to a top-five club in the West only if he chooses to be aggressive nightly. Luka Doncic can’t be responsible for creating everything himself.
Hardaway Jr’s big night:
Playing off of Porzingis, Hardaway Jr. found a rhythm on the floor early. The sharpshooter went 9-16 from the field and 4-9 from three, scoring 24 points in 28 minutes. And in the first half, he made most of his money, scoring 18 points while Dallas jumped out to an early 20-point lead.
It’s no secret, Hardaway Jr. needs to make shots for Dallas to win. This team has been horrific from behind the three-point line, but his play can change that quickly. He may not be Dallas’ most consistent three-point bomber, but his points are needed in every way as Dallas tries to figure out what exactly it is as a team.
Outside of Hardaway Jr. (24) and Porzingis (27), Dallas had three other double-figure scorers: Doncic (26), Josh Richardson (18), Dwight Powell (12). Having five players tally double-digit scoring numbers is a difficult thing to do by any team. In Monday night’s contents, it gave Dallas an opportunity to boast team depth that it didn’t possess for much of the season. A full roster can change everything, and Mavs fans have seen that recently with back-to-back wins. But, in the end, old habits die hard. And by the fourth quarter, Dallas faced another blown lead it had built in the first half.
Dallas was outscored 71-56 in the second half. That isn’t something to gloss over. Routinely this season, Dallas has played lackadaisical with the lead. And often to blame has been the suspect Mavericks defense. Monday night was another example of that truth.
Dallas gave up 27 points in the second half to Malik Beasley, 22 of them came in the fourth quarter. It looked as though the Mavs defense let its foot off the gas peddle. That is something great teams simply don’t do. He found his spots on the floor and never stopped attacking once he had his rhythm going. Beasley’s play changed the complexion of the game for Minnesota.
Yes, Doncic closed the game out by making great plays down the stretch. And yes, Dallas’s blazing offense allowed them to play with house money when it had the lead. But, if the Mavs hope to make noise come playoff time, fortifying the team’s defense has to come first. If Porzingis is blocking shots and playing the way he was on Monday, that will come easier for Dallas. If not, the Mavs might need to explore the trade and buyout market for difference makers on that end of the floor. But for now, it’s on to play the Atlanta Hawks in ESPN primetime on Wednesday.
Feature image via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports