DALLAS – That was some kind of defensive display by the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night at American Airlines Center.
Miami came to town sporting the best record – 16-2 – in the entire NBA over the previous 18 games. The Heat also had scored 100 or more points in 16 straight games.
But the Mavs, seemingly undaunted and apparently not impressed, showed some defensive might and gumption not seen in these parts in quite some time.
By the time the final whistle blew, the Mavs had finished the game on a brisk 12-0 run while muscling their way to an impressive hard-fought 96-89 victory over the Heat.
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The Mavs held Miami scoreless over the final 4:37 during a span where the Heat went 0-of-7 from the field and committed a pair of turnovers. Considering the quality of play Miami has displayed over the past six weeks, to shut down the Heat in this fashion was big news from the Mavs’ camp.
"We got a more defense-oriented lineup in the game, which helped," coach Rick Carlisle said. "With (the Heat) it’s all about trying to keep them in front of you, take away the paint."
By being a defensive juggernaut against the Heat, the Mavs (24-35) are now only two games behind the Denver Nuggets (26-33) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference going into Wednesday’s game in Atlanta.
The Mavs, who got 24 points from Harrison Barnes and a season-high 11 rebounds from Dirk Nowitzki, also are 2-0 with center Nerlens Noel on the court. Acquired in a trade with Philadelphia last Thursday, Noel finished with six points – all coming on three alley-oop passes – and six rebounds.
But his sheer presence inside the paint often created some havoc and made the Heat think twice about driving to the hole.
"I thought he was a factor,’’ Carlisle said. "He’s a factor because he covers so much ground.
"He got the ball in the basket on some key plays, a couple of those lob dunks came at really important times. He’s still learning what we’re doing.’’
And much of that learning, Carlisle knows, will come when Noel gets a few more games under his belt.
"There was some miscommunication on a couple of things, but he’ll get there with that stuff,’’ Carlisle said. "It’s great to have a guy of that size and length with that kind of quickness.
"He can protect the rim, but he can also switch out and guard 3-point shooters on the perimeter. There are just not many guys like that around."
And there have not been many defensive performances like this by the Mavs against a quality team this season.
The Mavs were diving for loose balls, stepping into the passing lanes on defense, ball-hawking the Heat ball-handlers, and just being a natural pest all night long.
And Noel has been the main instigator.
"He’s active and he was all over the place,’’ said Seth Curry, who made 5-of-7 shots from beyond the 3-point arc and finished with 29 points. "I turned and sometimes I was expecting nobody to be there, and he’s there and recovering back to his man.
"He causes a lot of havoc on the defensive end and we’re trying to finds spots offensively where we can get him lobs and get him into the game like that. It’s fun to have him out there on the court and he brings another weapon to our team.’’
This was the fewest points Miami has scored in a game since they lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, 98-86, on Jan. 8. Basically, the Heat has been scoring so many points in bushel lately that defenders needed a calculator to keep up.
"These guys have scored 100 or more points in the last 16 games,’’ Carlisle said. "And to hold them under 90 – especially with their big first quarter – that’s a big deal.
"It shows we were able to bear down, but we’ve got to get off to better starts.’’
Miami led 31-17 late in the first quarter. But in a stunning defensive display, the Mavs held the Heat to just 58 points over the final 37:21.
"This is the type of game where on the road you’ve got to find a way to gut this one out," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We weren’t able to do that.
"Our second-quarter defense was probably as poor as it’s been in a long time. Now they had a series of loose balls and 50-50s and offensive rebounds that they won every single one of them and got themselves back into the game and took the lead with some momentum.’’
Goran Dragic acknowledged that Miami’s lack of defense is what led to its downfall.
"I felt like the whole game we didn’t play well on defense,’’ said Dragic, who scored 24 points. "It was more like a pick-up game.
"We didn’t use our main key – that’s try to be more hungry and play defense. They were more physical than we were."
A comment like that when attached to the Mavs is very unusual. Then again, the Mavs seemed to have transitioned from a team with strong offensive ties to one that relies on its defense.
At least that’s what transpired against the Heat.
"The last four or five minutes we really did a good job of just making a stand at the defensive end," Carlisle said. "We ended the game on a 12-0 run, which is really a terrific accomplishment in a game like this.’’