There are two ways the Mavericks can most please me when I watch their games. One involves seeing them win in exciting, emotional fashion. The other involves getting to experience an endless series of JaVale McGee highlights. Last night’s game against the Kings gave me both, and I’m confidently dubbing it my new favorite game of the season so far.
First, the facts. The Mavericks entered play on a two-game losing streak, and it seemed dire they put a stop to it with Sacramento in town. Six of the next seven games are on the road, and the schedule gets really, really hard next week, so sliding any further into the abyss was out of the question. The Kings are a decent offensive team with a few very hard-to-stop players, but they’re beatable, dammit. Were it not for some serious last second heroics from Deron Williams, the mood in Mavs Nation would be considerably worse right now.
There weren’t many NBA games on the schedule last night, and because of the Rajon Rondo story, viewers targeted the Kings-Mavericks matchup as perhaps the most entertaining one of the night. It turned out to hold up to that hype even though Rondo sat out with an injury and quietly sneaked toward the Kings’ bench when the lights were out so no one could boo him.
If you’ve taken anything from my posts over the course of this season, it’s that I have a huge soft spot for JaVale McGee. He draws a lot of hate during his 10 minutes of play a night for having what appears to be rather below-average court awareness, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: he does things no one else on the Mavericks can do. Anyone complaining about McGee’s 10 minutes per contest really needs to calm down and find something else to be bitter about. Yes, he makes silly mistakes often. He also does, well, this.
You may not have noticed, but there aren’t any other shot blockers on the Mavericks. As much as I love Zaza Pachulia and his career-best rebounding numbers, that guy can’t jump at all. McGee protects the rim much better than Pachulia can, even if he does leave his feet at the wrong moments sometimes. Oh, and he also provides Mavericks playmakers (there are nine of them) with an extra option on the offensive end, because he can catch and slam anything thrown near him.
Just look at that ferocious slam. It wasn’t even the only one he got on the night; Devin Harris also lobbed one from nearly half-court that McGee chewed up and spit down the hoop, leaving the net temporarily askew as it hung on the side of the rim. McGee’s had a few exciting games in short bursts this year, but none better than last night. He finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals in just over 17 minutes. That’s production off the bench at its finest, Mr. McGee. Have I mentioned he has an alter-ego named Pierre? It just gets better and better.
Of course, it took more than McGee to bring down the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins is perhaps the very largest man I’ve ever, ever seen, and he can’t at all be stopped. He’s the type of player you dread seeing with the ball in crucial situations, and he proved it when he single-handedly forced the game into its first overtime period just when it looked like the Mavs were going to pull it out. Cousins finished with 35 points, 17 rebounds, 4 assists, and 6 steals for one of the better all-around performances I’ve ever seen. Rudy Gay was a perimeter version of Cousins, shooting 13-for-20 and adding in 31 points of his own. Those two are a total fucking nightmare to deal with offensively.
The heroes were plenty for Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki was largely silent through the entire game until coming alive in the fourth quarter and in the overtime periods that followed. He finished with 23 points, 13 of which came after the third period. As for Williams, what is there to even say about him? If it weren’t for Cousins’ dominance, Williams’ masterful drive to the rim and subsequent layup with two seconds left in regulation would have won the game by itself, but instead he had to do it again at the end of the second overtime.
Let me set the stage. Nowitzki and Williams had knocked down shot after shot, but the Kings wouldn’t go away. Then, in the second overtime, they started to go away in a bad way — by getting the lead and expanding it with precious little time left. After a particularly disheartening Rudy Gay three with just 1:20 left to play, Sacramento had stormed out to a seven-point lead that seemed insurmountable. The Mavericks were deflated, the crowd was deflated, and most importantly, I was deflated.
Then began a most improbable comeback. Williams drove inside following a timeout and converted on another layup. Dirk nailed a rushed three with Cousins in his face. After refusing to foul the Kings despite knowing that the end of their possession would provide the Mavericks with just two seconds remaining and a two-point deficit at best, Rick Carlisle called another timeout and drew up something that came out like this.
Just like walk-off wins in baseball, buzzer beaters never get old. I’ve already seen this play a dozen times now, and my love for it is only growing. The presence of mind Williams had to pump fake Gay with so little time left, gather himself behind the three-point line, and knock down that shot is incredible. With big shots like that, I don’t even mind that some of the attention went away from McGee’s highlights in the process.
That shot is why the Mavericks enter play today at 20-15 with a freshly snapped losing streak instead of stumbling desperately into New Orleans with the season crumbling all around them. That may be a little hyperbolic, but considering the roller coaster ride that was last night’s game, I think that reaction is permissible.