CHICAGO – This was Wesley Matthews’ kind of game.
The kind where points are difficult to come by, where the defense takes center stage, and where the game gets muddy and murky.
That’s what happened Friday night at the United Center when the Dallas Mavericks scratched out an 83-77 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
Dallas held Chicago to just 31 points in the second half. And those 77 points – that’s the fewest the Mavs have relinquished in a game this season.
But for Matthews, the Mavs’ shooting guard with a pit-bull mentality, he’s irked that Dallas doesn’t play this type of lockdown defense all the time.
"It’s frustrating, but at the same time we still know what we can do it,’’ Matthews said. "We know that we can beat the top teams – we’ve done it.’’
The Mavs looked shell-shocked at the outset Friday as they fell behind 13-3 five minutes into the game. Dallas was still down 46-36 at intermission, and only started showing signs of life in the second half.
A 15-2 run to open the second half gave the Mavs their first lead of the game at 51-48. Their ability to slam the door on the Bulls at the defensive end played a key role in this victory.
"First of all it was a tale of two halves,’’ said Deron Williams, who had 18 points and six assists. "In the first half we could not make a shot, we just looked out of sync and out of rhythm.
"In the second half we decided to get out there defensively.’’
That stout defense by the Mavs enabled to go square their record on this three-game road trip – it ends Sunday in San Antonio -- to 1-1. The Mavs also have now reached the halfway point of the season with a 23-18 record.
Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavs with a game-high 21 points and seven rebounds. He also produced the game’s most critical defensive play when he blocked a 6-foot jumper by Derrick Rose with the game up a point with 3:32 remaining in the game.
"I blacked out -- I can’t remember a thing what happened there,’’ Nowitzki said in describing his block on Rose. "He’s so good at floaters, I’m not sure how I got to it.
"I thought he was going to keep going and try to get around me and even get to the basket – I thought he could have. But he pulled up for a floater and I was lucky enough to get a hand on it.’’
Coach Rick Carlisle said no one should underestimate what Nowitzki can accomplish at the defensive side of the court.
"Dirk’s an underrated defender,’’ Carlisle said. "He’s a great defensive rebounder, he’s great in our system and he’s got deceptive length.
"He’s a guy that has an unbending will to win. Whatever is needed, he’s going to try to do it, and that was a huge play.’’
That play helped the Mavs gain a 2-0 sweep of their season series against the Bulls.
"It got to be a ratty game with some unusual lineups and stuff like that, but our guys found a way and I’m real happy for them,’’ Carlisle said. "It was a tale of two halves.
"The first half was not what we’re about and the second half was exactly what we want to be about.’’
And that second half is what Matthews hopes the Mavs can bottle and carry with them the rest of this season. He knows that tenacity, that aggression, that sticky defense is what champions are made of.
"We’ve just got to do it,’’ Matthews said. "It’s got to be our mindset and our mentality, regardless of who we play.
"We’ve done it at times when we probably shouldn’t have. It’s been games where it’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s probably not going to happen,’ and then it happened. And then we get our (rear ends) kicked against Milwaukee (on Jan. 8), and then bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, and the next thing you know it’s a four-point game.’’
Williams scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth period when he was 3-of-4 from the field, including connecting on both of his 3-point attempts to give the Mavs’ sagging offensive a breath of fresh air.
"Deron’s shot-making and play-making in the fourth (quarter) was huge,’’ Carlisle said. "He hit a couple of big threes, we had some good ball movement, and I thought he played a real solid defensive game against Derrick Rose.
"You’ve got to be a two-way player in this league to be really successive, and D-Will is another underrated defender and his offensive game was big tonight.’’
The Mavs also shut down Jimmy Butler, holding him to a season-low four points on 2-of-11 shooting. Butler tallied a career-high 53 points in Thursday’s overtime win in Philadelphia.
"Wes really worked hard on Butler,’’ Carlisle said. "In fairness, Butler had to be exhausted tonight from going through (49) minutes (Thursday) night, but Wes really made it hard on him.’’
Matthews just wants the Mavs to make it hard on every team, regardless of that team’s won-loss record and position in the NBA pecking order.
"We just got to make sure that…we’re not getting up because it’s Cleveland, or it’s Chicago, or it’s OKC, or it’s Golden State,’’ Matthews said. "We’re getting up because we’re blessed to be able to play basketball at the highest level.’’
Dwain Price can be heard every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on dfwiradio.com