Cavs can’t stop Mavericks bench, fall 96-86

Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

by Patrick ‘Rey’ Reynell

Coming off back-to-back nights, The Dallas Mavericks looked to their reserves for some fresh legs.

They did not disappoint.

The Dallas (31-34) bench scored 60 points as the Mavs ran past the Cleveland Cavaliers (22-43) in the second half to win 96-86 in Dallas Friday night.

Dion Waiters led all scorers with 21 points. Rodrique Beaubois came off the bench and led the Mavs with 18.

The Mavericks have now won 5 of their last 6, with their lone loss in that stretch being a narrow 1-point game against the San Antonio Spurs.

In the first half, the Cavs continued their recent defensive pressure. They held the Mavs to just 37.2% from the field for the half after holding their previous two opponents to 40% (Raptors and Wizards).

Dallas started the game 1-10 from the field. Dirk Nowitzki struggled to find his legs, starting the game off 0 for his first 5. The drought ended at the 6:51 mark with his first jumper to make it 11-4 Cavs.

Nowitizki finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Cleveland took advantage of backcourt mismatches early in the game. Starting point guard Shaun Livingston, a former fourth overall, exploited the lackadaisical pressure of Dallas’ leading scorer O.J. Mayo.

Livingston was constantly able to penetrate to the middle of the lane and make kick outs and easy post entries to the short corner. Late in the first quarter, the Mavs switched to a smaller defender in starting point guard Mike James.

The 6’7″ Livingston then utilized his back-to-the-basket game and was able to back down the smaller James. Livingston finished with 13 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds.

At the other guard position, Waiters looked to use his size and strength against James and Darren Collison.

Overall, The cavs movement gave the Dallas defense problems early on. The Mavs constantly lost cutters. On back-to-back to possessions, Livingston broke free off of a back-pick for an alley-oop finish; on the next Livingston assisted to Alonzo Gee on a well executed flex screen and dunk.

The Mavs clearly looked tired and uncommitted defensively to handle the younger, more spry Cavaliers.

The second saw a bit more movement and activity on the offensive end for the Mavericks. Nowitzki started to spread the Cavs’ defense by passing out of the short corner; he hit cutters across the lane and when the defense started to adjust, used a skip pass.

Dallas only shot 1-9 from three in the half and could not find their rhythm offensively.

Cavs coach Byron Scott said before the game that their transition defense would be key. The Mavs rank sixth in the NBA in fast break points with nearly 17 a game. At the end of the first half, Dallas only had 6 in transition.

The second half was more to Rick Carlisle‘s liking.

By the middle of the third quarter, the Mavs had already doubled their fast break points. Fittingly, they gained their first lead on a transition bucket to make it 55-54. Despite the Mavs’ offensive resurgence, Cleveland held a slim lead at the end of third, 68-67.

In the fourth, Carlisle found a different combination that the Cavs could not stop. Reserves Brandan Wright, Darren Collison, and Beaubois consistently got out in the open floor and broke down the Cleveland defense. The backcourt advantage that previously favored the Cavs now shifted to the Mavs; the smaller, quicker combination of Collison and Beaubois constantly got to the rim and found Wright.

Wright’s athleticism and energy led to a key block on defense and several dunks on offense. He came off the bench to finish with 13 points and 5 rebounds. The Mavs finished with 19 fast break points much accredited to the fourth quarter.

Offensively, the Cavaliers got away from getting the ball to forward Tristan Thompson in the second half. Thompson, who finished short of another double-double with 12 points and 7 rebounds, dominated with his face-up game early on.

When he got the ball on the left side of the floor, he was able to attack off the dribble going to his right. All of his field goals came from that move and a finishing floater in the lane with his right hand. Though Thompson started with that same move in the second half, his final bucket came off an offensive rebound put-back early in the third.

With his touches suddenly diminished, the Cavaliers lost a 23-10 advantage they held in the frontcourt in the first half. The offense became more reliant on dribble-drives and kick-outs for three. In turn, the long rebound opportunities allowed the fact=paced Mavs to finally get out and run.

Carlisle’s defensive adjustment forced several more turnovers in the second half as well. When the Cavs rebounded on the defensive end, the Mavs would jam the rebounder and jump passing lanes in the backcourt. The added pressure led to 11 turnovers in the second half, with many critical ones coming down the stretch.

The Cavs had been averaging a league low 12.3 turnovers a game since January 14. The finished this game with 18.

Dallas welcomes Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder at 7:30 Sunday.

Cleveland finishes a back-to-back against the best in the west as they travel to San Antonio to take on the Spurs Saturday evening.

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