The Dallas Mavericks entered Thursday's game against the Utah Jazz on minimal rest and without positive momentum, but used great performances from both Shawn Marion and Rodrigue Beaubois to earn a hard-fought 94-91 road victory. While Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry combined for just 22 points on 8-26 shooting, Marion set a new season-high with 22 points on 10-17 shooting and Beaubois added 17 points on 6-9 shooting. With the Mavs sporting the No. 2 points in the paint defense and the Jazz relying heavily on their No. 2 points in the paint offense, as noted on the TNT broadcast, something had to give. In this case, both teams asserted their strengths at different points in the game, but Dallas saved their power grab in the paint for the second half.
The Mavs came into Thursday's action losers of their last two games, and they didn't arrive at their hotel in Utah to wrap up a back-to-back until 3:16 a.m., but showed no signs of fatigue in the first half. Shawn Marion (7-10 for 16 points) and Delonte West (3-3 for 6 points) helped fuel 58.5 percent shooting as a team in the first two quarters, while Dallas also dished out 14 first half assists and only turned the ball over four times on their way to a 59-50 halftime lead.
With the short rest for the Mavs, home court advantage, a sellout crowd and a day of rest to prepare, the Jazz couldn't have had more going for them. The low-post, rim-attacking brand of basketball that helped them win eight of nine games heading into the matchup still emerged at times, but sloppiness in other areas undermined the overall effectiveness of the style. Al Jefferson still got his in the paint early on (6-9 shooting for 16 points), but the home team recorded seven turnovers along with just seven assists in the half. The highlight of the game came in the first quarter when Utah swingman C.J. Miles blew past Marion and switched hands in midair to throw down a spectacular dunk in the face of Lamar Odom. The TNT announcing crew didn't exactly rise to the occasion in describing the moment, but that was another interesting storyline for the night (see the video below).
By the time the third quarter rolled around the travel finally caught up with the Mavs, as Utah started to push the ball in transition and earn easy baskets on the fast break. Both teams stumbled out of the gate after halftime, but the Jazz managed to get it together and erase the 9-point deficit to even the score at 71-71 heading into the final period. Things got chippy near the end of third. Earl Watson tried to slap the ball away from Dirk during a dead ball situation and picked up a technical foul, then Derrick Favors got ejected after throwing the ball away in frustration after a questionable call on the ensuing possession. Dallas actually had more personal fouls called on them (20) during the course of the game than the Jazz (19), but the crowd did take exception to several benefit-of-the-doubt type calls the defending champs may have received on the night.
In the final period, Brendan Haywood matched up on Al Jefferson and flexed the Mavs' ability to prevent points in the paint. Haywood played with a strong base and pushed Jefferson out of the paint for wider catches, forcing big Al into jumpshots and limiting him to 1 point of 0-5 shooting during closing quarter. The Jazz continued to push the ball in transition and make the most of Dallas turnovers, but after an lackluster third, Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle turned to his role players to win the game. Beaubois sliced into the paint for 10 points on 4-6 shooting, while Marion added 4 points on 2-3 shooting,and it proved to be just enough to edge out Utah in the end. The battle for points in the paint favored the Mavs 48-38, and Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson needed 34 combined shots to get 38 points, so it turned out that Dallas' interior defense did it's job just a little bit better than Utah's interior offense. Dallas will now look to start a winning streak when they meet the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday, while the Jazz hope to rebound from their loss when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday.
Interesting note: by far the strangest moment in TNT's broadcast of the game came when play-by-play man Kevin Harlan referred to Delonte West as a "bag of potatoes." In the first quarter, Al Jefferson used a drop step and pump fake to draw a shooting foul on Delonte West. As West got caught up in the air on the move, Jefferson reflexively reached up to break his fall and caught the Mavs guard on his shoulder to prevent him from falling awkwardly. In the heat of the moment, Harlan described the action like this: "oh that's right, lift that bag of potatoes if you've got to inside. That's some heavy lifting in there...ride 'em cowboy." It was...weird. Take a look and a listen: