By Darreck Kirby
PSDC Dallas Mavericks Beat Writer
On Sunday night, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle found himself in a pickle. His starting center Tyson Chandler was going to miss the game due to lower back spasms. Further complicating the issue was the recent departure, via the Rajon Rondo trade, of Tyson Chandler-lite, Brandan Wright. What he was left with was Greg Smith, an unproven, somewhat undersized big man. But, rather than lean on Smith from the gate, a whimsical dream – a nightmare really – prompted Carlisle to craft the most Don Nelson lineup imaginable. The Dallas starting lineup for Sunday night was as follows:
PG – J.J. Barea
SG – Rajon Rondo
SF – Monta Ellis
PF – Chandler Parsons
C – Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk and Parsons joked that it was likely the most unathletic front court in NBA history – except for maybe Dirk and Chris Kaman. Rondo and Ellis said it was the weirdest starting line up they’d ever seen. So what results did Carlisle’s three guard starting lineup yield? A 112-107 victory over a scrappy Oklahoma City squad trying to stay afloat while its reigning MVP recuperates from an ankle injury.
Dallas’ offense was rolling early, led by Chandler Parsons 15 first quarter points. But OKC refused to go quietly – even with Russell Westbrook struggling to find his offensive touch. By halftime, Dallas owned a six-point lead and Parsons and Dirk had 18 points a piece.
The Thunder wouldn’t go quietly, however, outscoring the Mavs by 13 in the fourth to take a seven-point advantage into the fourth quarter. And, despite the efforts of Serge Ibaka and his 26 points and 10 rebounds, Dallas would find a way to prevail.
Dirk would channel his vintage self to score 30 points, including 10 in the final five minutes, on 8-of-13 shooting to put this contest away. Parsons threw in 26 points of his own and capped the game with a two-handed slam at the buzzer to squash the Thunder’s final rally.
If there are concerns to be had surrounding this game, it’s that Monta Ellis appeared to suffer a nasty ankle injury in the closing minutes. While Ellis hasn’t missed a game in over two and a half years, and still insists he won’t miss Tuesday, that streak could be put to the test.
The other concern is with regards to the Dallas bench. Sure Charlie Villanueva has found his shot, and more so his role since the Rondo trade, but Dallas’ second unit is struggling to find its rhythm. Against OKC the bench managed just 14 points, and just seven outside of Charlie V’s contributions. Jermaine O’Neal anyone?
Rajon Rondo can flat out pass the rock. With the Mavs charging back into the game in the final frame, Rondo led the bench on a furious comeback that he capped with a one-handed bouncing skip-pass through four Thunder defenders to a wide open Charlie Villanueva in the corner. Villanueva sank the three and gave Dallas back the lead.
In his fifth game with Dallas, Rondo appears to be developing a great rapport with his teammates and the offense is clicking as a result. Further, the defense is starting to come together. Though Dallas gave up 107 points to Oklahoma City, Rondo locked down on Russell Westbrook who, over the course of his last ten games, has averaged 33 points a night. Westbrook was held to 18 points on 6-of-23 shooting and really came unraveled late under Rondo’s relentless pressure. If he can keep this up, Dallas’ defensive efficiency should improve across the board.
The win improved Dallas’ record to 22-10. Up next, the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.
For more news and updates on the Dallas Mavericks, stay tuned to ProjectShanks.com and follow Darreck on Twitter @DarreckWKirby.