DALLAS – Because of injuries and age, the Dallas Mavericks knew their offensive numbers would be down this season. Thus, they also knew they would have to hang their hats on their defense.
Tuesday was a prime example of the Mavs’ defensive tenacity paying off.
Trailing Washington by one point entering the fourth quarter, the Mavs held the Wizards scoreless during the opening four minutes of the fourth period and went on to claim a 113-105 victory at American Airlines Center.
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Washington missed its first six shots of the fourth quarter at a time when the Mavs tallied eight straight points to go ahead 95-88 following a 3-point play by Deron Williams. More importantly, the Mavs outscored the Wizards 26-21 in the third quarter and back that up by outscoring them 26-17 in the fourth quarter.
"We were good in the fourth (quarter) and we were good in the third quarter, too,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "The second quarter started out pretty good, but ended very poorly.
"We gave up 38 points in the second quarter and gave up the lead.’’
With Seth Curry coming off the bench to score eight of his 16 points, the Mavs built a 58-47 lead with 2:37 remaining before halftime. But the Wizards put on an extremely mad rush and used the lightning-quick speed of John Wall to outscore the Mavs 20-3 the rest of the half and assume a 67-61 lead at intermission.
Wall tallied 13 points during that aforementioned burst by Washington and finished the first half with 20 points on 7-of-10 shots. But he was only 3-of-9 from the floor with just seven points in the second half.
"I felt like in the first half Wall just got too much in our paint,’’ said Devin Harris, who tallied 17 points. "So we started to go underneath his pick-and-rolls and try to force him to shoot jump shots from the outside.’’
A 3-pointer by Wesley Matthews bumped the Mavs’ lead up to 102-92 with 5:55 left in the game. Then the Mavs rode their defense and some timely buckets to the winner’s circle.
"The second (quarter) we played the way we needed to play,’’ Carlisle said. "A 21-point defensive quarter in the third (quarter), then a 17-point defensive quarter in the fourth, and those are the kind of numbers that get the job done for us.’’
Harrison Barnes’ 3-point dagger put Dallas up 113-105 with 24.3 seconds left and ended the suspense.
Barnes led the Mavs (11-24) with 26 points, seven rebounds and a career-high tying five assists. He also revealed that the Mavs wanted to push the tempo and wear down the Wizards, who lost in Houston on Monday night.
"Washington was playing on a back-to-back and they are a better team than their record,’’ Barnes said of the Wizards’ 16-18 record. "We just wanted to throw a lot of bodies at them.
"I thought we did a good job in the first quarter, but the second quarter got away from us and they almost scored 40 points, which was difficult. But in the second half we got stops and that allowed us to get back in the game.’’
And ultimately win the game.
Carlisle even praised the defensive work of reserve center Salah Mejri, who played for the first time with 3:52 remaining in the game when Andrew Bogut hurt his knee.
"Mejri gets thrown in there with four minutes to go in the game when Bogut banged his knee, and Salah did a great job,’’ Carlisle said. "He helped us close the game, gave us a rim presence and did some good things screening.
"It’s the next man up type of situation and it’s a good competitive situation for minutes, too.’’
As far as the injury to Bogut is concerned, Carlisle said: "My understanding is that it is not serious, but I have not talked to him. I just talked to (head athletic trainer) Casey (Smith) and Casey didn’t seem to think it was serious.’’
The Mavs, who got 21 points and six assists from Williams, have now won four of their last seven games and are just four-and-half games behind the Sacramento Kings for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
By opening January with seven of their first 11 games at home, the Mavs believe they can make a serious move on the Kings and on the other four teams between Dallas and the Kings.
"We are getting some guys back from injury,’’ Harris said. "We are starting to build a little team chemistry.
"The games are a bit stretched out now and not on top of each other, and it is a favorable schedule. So yes, we feel like we can win some of these games.’’
Especially if the Mavs continue to play defense like they did in the second half of Tuesday’s win over the Wizards.
"We gave up a double digit lead to go down six at halftime,’’ Carlisle said. "That is not a good way to end the half.
"But we regrouped, the guys held it together and we just kept chipping away.’’