Of the 240 playing minutes available in the first five games of the Dallas Mavericks’ season, rookie forward Dorian Finney-Smith played just four total.
Sunday night, with Dirk Nowitzki on the sidelines with an Achilles injury and point guard Deron Williams also out, Finney-Smith took on nearly 32 minutes of work in Dallas’ 86-75 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
His defensive effort inspired head coach Rick Carlisle to leave the former University of Florida standout in the game’s critical stretch against the league’s emerging power forward star, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“He and Nicolas Brussino were the ones available to us tonight, but Finney-Smith really has more experience in the American game,” Carlisle said. “He’s just an excellent defender and when he was out there on the floor, Milwaukee was averaging just 0.56 points per possession.
“It’s not a coincidence that the game changed on some level when was out there, he was big.”
Big enough that Antetokounmpo had little chance on a final 21-foot jumper in regulation that would have won the game for the Bucks.
Known as the “Greek Freak,” Antetokoumpo made only four of 12 shots and one of five 3-pointers to finish with 11 points.
Finney-Smith averaged 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds as a senior last season for Florida.
He scored 5 points against the Bucks on one of six shooting, but his lone basket pulled the Mavericks within 35-33 late in the second quarter.
Finney-Smith made the 23-footer on an assist from J.J. Barea that helped continue a 22-4 run to close out the first half for the Mavericks.
In a rare display, the Mavericks gave Finney-Smith a “game ball” and cited his defense, especially against Antetokounmpo in the final stretch, as a difference maker.
“I just wanted to keep the ball in front of me, don’t foul and contest the shot,” Finney-Smith said. “It feels good to know that they trust me enough to play me down the stretch and get stops.
“That’s what I like to do is play defense and he put me in when it mattered. I feel like they got some trust in me tonight.”