Holy hell, what a win. I’m going to put this bluntly: I was flat out nervous during the concluding portion of this Clippers matchup. I’ve already experienced frustration with my new team, and I’ve pumped my fist more than a few times when they manage to do something right, but in this game, it was different. I was clenched. I wished for bad things to happen to various Clippers. I felt the need to hug a very sweaty, very awesome Dirk Nowitzki after another amazing shooting performance. Most importantly, I think I fell in love with Wes Matthews, because he finally showed Mavs fans what he can be.
I expected a loss the first time these teams matched up, way back on October 29, the second game of the season. That was in Los Angeles, and it was the second game of a road back-to-back. Pair that disadvantage with facing a good team, and you have a recipe for a disappointing game, and that’s what it was. Villain DeAndre Jordan wasn’t overly dominant, but Blake Griffin was, and that was enough. Last night, Jordan had even less to offer, and Griffin faded late, missing 7 of his last 8 field goal attempts. The result, of course, is that Dallas held on for the win, and it was much needed. It’s one thing to lose on the road, but this one was different. This one was on Maverick turf.
I could go on and on about Nowitzki and his incredible night. I could rave about how he dropped a vintage Dirk double-double, scoring 31 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. I could get starry-eyed over his incredible 11-for-14 field goal shooting, or his big three-pointer with just over a minute to go — even if it was an ugly shot that banked in, Charlie Villanueva-style. As much as Dirk deserves endless gratitude from Mavs fans, though, this game really belongs to Wes Matthews, and I don’t even think Nowitzki would mind that suggestion.
Despite rupturing his Achilles in March last season, the Mavericks felt strongly enough about Matthews’s game to pay him big money, giving him a deal that ultimately became worth four years and $70 million once Jordan officially returned to the Clippers. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound shooting guard had yet to impress much in his first handful of games as a Mav, averaging only 12.2 points per 36 minutes, a career low. Matthews clearly hadn’t found his stroke, as he entered last night’s game with an abysmal field goal percentage of 31 percent. Known as a solid defender with a plus post game and the ability to get to the basket, he displayed very little of the skills that obviously excited Dallas so much in the offseason.
Everything changed last night, and we can all hope it’s the start of the real Matthews showing up for the 2015-16 season. His box score stats are oh-so-gorgeous to look at: 9-for-13 from the field, 3-for-4 from downtown, 6 rebounds, and 3 dimes just for good measure. He also gets a lot of credit for handling Chris Paul on the plays where he was responsible for guarding the Clippers point man, who shot an awful 2-for-11 from the field, including one desperation buzzer-beating three that was in no way skill. Please, Wes Matthews, take this new momentum and run with it.
I can’t wrap up this post without gushing just a little about Zaza Pachulia. The big Georgian has not exactly been reliable with his jumper, but his intensity is incredibly endearing. I love how he throws that 275-pound frame around with reckless abandon, and I love how unstoppable he was on the boards when the team needed him last night. Obviously Dallas would rather have Jordan, or even last year’s center Tyson Chandler, but Zaza is holding his own as the replacement big man this year. He’ll have to give way to eventual 2015-16 MVP JaVale McGee at some point, but right now I’m liking Zaza, and I’m going to work hard at perfecting that khachapuri recipe he is so clearly always craving on the court. Just look at those hungry eyes the next time he rips a rebound away from the opposition.
What a win. What a team. What a time to be an MFFL.