DALLAS – Because he was inserted back into a very tight game during crunch time Wednesday night, Dallas Mavericks forward Justin Anderson figures he has arrived.
With the Mavs trailing the New York Knicks, 82-81, with 4:37 remaining in the game, Anderson was subbed into the game for veteran Devin Harris. And the rookie form Virginia didn’t disappoint as he made some critical plays that enabled the Mavs to edge the New York Knicks, 91-89, at American Airlines Center.
Anderson’s driving layup off a pass from Wesley Matthews gave the Mavs an 88-86 lead with 1:42 left. And 18 seconds later, Anderson stole the ball away from Carmelo Anthony.
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"It’s one of those things, because I’m a rookie, if I didn’t catch that and finish that, (Matthews) could have told me to stay in the corner,’’ Anderson said of his layup. "It’s one of those things where you’ve got to be decisive, you’ve got to go with a level of confidence.
"He had a heckuva pass to find me on the bottom and I kind of got banged up in the face a little bit and tried to finish through the contact, and it worked out. I got back on defense and got a stop.’’
So why was a first-year player who has played very little this season on the court at a crucial stage of a critical game?
"We were playing very small and Devin had been in for a long stretch and I was a little reticent with playing very small because we were going to need rebounds,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "I was confident we would get stops because the game was ramped up intensity-wise.
"Our guys were really going at it, but there were going to be some balls flying around and (Anderson) is one of the best guys we have at pursuing them. He went in there and was a presence on defense and made a huge layup that was a decisive play in the game.’’
The win helped the Mavs forge a tie with Utah and Houston. All three of those teams have identical 37-38 records, and only two of those three will advance to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Anderson scored seven points and also contributed two steals and a blocked shot. In addition, he was really a terror on the boards, where he finished with nine rebounds.
"I just tried to continue to stay with the little things,’’ Anderson said. "They’re a beast down low and they have a lot of size and they rotate those bigs in and out.
"We went small a little bit and we had Wesley (Matthews) playing (power forward), but I was guarding the (power forward) defensively and I just wanted to get in there and use my athleticism and try to get them above the rim and try to get us easy shots in transition just by rebounding and getting it to the point guard.’’
One of the reason Anderson has been so successful, according to forward Dirk Nowitzki and coach Rick Carlisle, is that he’s not rushing things the way he was earlier in the season.
"Forty games ago, I’ve just had experience and just being thrown out there,’’ said Anderson, who was 3-of-4 from the field in 29 minutes. "I’ve gone from the D-League and kind of going down there and trying to control my pace, and when I’m up here (in the NBA), whenever I’m getting thrown in, I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunities.
"I can think back to a couple of games (against) San Antonio where coach had me in there at the end for awhile, and I’m just trying to play poise and just trying to be a complete player. And like I said, just be a glue guy for us right now because we’re going through a tough time with a couple of guys banged up, and I’ve got to be that glue guy for us and kind of be a dog.’’
Anderson was very successful while being in the starting lineup Monday against the Denver Nuggets. So Carlisle decided to insert him back him into the starting lineup – along with second-year pro Dwight Powell – against the Knicks.
With Anderson’s help, the Mavs held the Knicks to 3-of-17 shooting from 3-point range and also scored 13 points off 20 New York turnovers.
"I think we played a complete game,’’ Anderson said. "I think that can’t go unnoticed is how complete we were defensively and offensively.
"We were very solid tonight.’’