CLEVELAND -- A day after a dreadful 20-point loss to the Indiana Pacers -- when Shawn Marion questioned his teammates' trust -- the Dallas Mavericks looked like a brand new team.
Gone was the matador defense which became a staple during the humiliating loss to the Pacers. In Saturday's gut-check 103-95 triumph over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, the Mavs put up a strong defensive front and ultimately wound up gaining a split of this short two-game road trip.
Chris Kaman led the block party for the Mavs (6-5) as he recorded six of the team's season-high 14 blocks, and also tallied 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Indeed, it was the overall help-defense by all the Mavs that stood out in the minds of the visitors, particularly after Dallas nearly blew a late nine-point lead.
"It can go either way," coach Rick Carlisle said of the game's waning moments. "We can man-up and stick together and do it the hard way and help each other, or the thing can go south.
"The guys got it done together. Right now we're trying to figure out exactly who we are, and we've just got a lot of things going on, and it's important to pull together and make something good happen."
Marion, who played 33 minutes and collected 10 points and 10 rebounds, challenged his teammates to start trusting one another, particularly during defensive rotations.
"When things aren't going right I'm going to start calling people out and make them challenge each other," Marion said. "That's how you make everybody better.
"You're going to see what kind of inner soul they've got, what kind of dog they've got in them."
The Mavs' collective inner soul must have been on the same page Saturday as Dallas shot 51.4 percent from the field, was 10 of 23 from 3-point range, won the rebounding battle 42-38, and limited the Cavs to 37.5 percent shooting.
Led by Dominique Jones, the Mavs' bench also had its way with the Cavs' reserves. The bench finished with 45 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists, while the Cavs got just 24 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists from their bench.
Jones was solid as he totaled 10 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals in just 18 minutes. Carlisle credits owner Mark Cuban for Jones even being on the court during some critical stages of the game.
"My owner gets an assist on that one," Carlisle said. "He talked to me [Friday] night after the game and he said he thought that [Jones] could bring something [Saturday].
"He's had good games in here before and he gave us a huge lift. So Mark gets an assist on that one."
Dahntay Jones also gets an assist on one of the game's major sequences. The Mavs had used a 9-0 spurt to go up 98-89 with 3:06 left, only to see the Cavs sprint back and inch within 98-95 following a 3-pointer by Kyrie Irving (26 points) with 1:31 to go.
Kaman then split a pair of free throws, and Dahntay Jones followed by blocking Irving's drive to the hoop. That block directly led to Marion feeding O.J. Mayo (19 points) for a fast break basket with 59.7 seconds left, which gave the Mavs a 101-95 cushion.
"We kept funneling [Irving] to the big man, and Chris Kaman did a good job of jumping straight up and making him change the shot," Dahntay Jones said. "And I just kept on the play and tried to make him shoot over me, and I just happened to get a block."
The game was tied at 24 after the first period, and the Cavs led at the half 52-51. The Mavs, who open a three-game homestand Monday against Golden State, led 75-73 going into the final stanza when they staged some of their better defense of the season.
"I really thought this was the best game we've played on the defensive end," said Collison, who had 14 points and eight assists. "Everybody was talking and we were where we needed to be.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760