Saturday’s game saw a West playoff contender welcome back a sorely-needed European luminary for his season debut. Oh, you didn't think we were talking about Dirk, did you? There is optimism there. But it's on hold as we dig through the details of Dallas' 114-106 overtime loss at Minny.
Nowitzki is still inching his way back from knee surgery and testing how long Mavs fans can watch clips of him jogging in an empty gym before they stop thinking of it as “promising” and start thinking about it as “annoying.” (As Fox Sports Southwest showed the exclusive tape of Dirk's work in a practice gym in Minnesota, our own Fish suggested that a UberMan return might come sometime between Christmas and New Year's. So, OK, we'll go with "promising.'')
But the return were are speaking of is that of Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio. The Spanish point guard injured his knee towards the end of his rookie season last year and missed the first month-and-a-half of this season. Rubio returned against the Mavericks, coming off the bench while he works himself back into playing shape. However, the Wolves were playing without their star power forward, Kevin Love, who was nursing a finger injury.
While Rubio began the game sitting on the bench, the point guard who got things rolling for the Mavericks in the first quarter played his first NBA game when Rubio was just 6 years old. Derek Fisher scored the first seven points for the Mavericks including a three-pointer 30 seconds into the game that started a new streak of consecutive games with a three-point field goals after the team went 0-of-13 from long range on Friday against Toronto.
It took until the last few seconds of the first quarter for Rubio to get his first assist of the season, but as fans have come to expect from him, it was a pretty one. Rubio rocketed a one-handed pass to former Mav J.J. Barea under the basket, which led to a goaltend by Brandon Wright.
Rubio’s flare didn’t end there. He followed that up by managing to throw a pass between both his legs and Elton Brand’s legs for a Greg Stiesma lay up. After a first quarter that ended with the Mavericks up 32-22, the Wolves rallied in the second quarter, sparked mostly by the energy that Rubio brought to the game and Minnesota led 54-45 at halftime.
We would contend that the assist was an electrifying momentum-grabber that twisted what had been a 13-point Mavs lead in the first quarter into a deficit featuring a season-low 13 points by Dallas in the entire second quarter.
T-Wolves’ coach Rick Adelman stayed true to his promise to limit Rubio’s minutes, which must have taken some serious discipline considering Rubio collected eight points, nine assists and four rebounds in just 18 minutes of play.
"He's a terrific player and he played well," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "You couldn't tell he's been out for a year. So give him credit."
As for the Mavericks, an inefficient second and third quarter cost canceled out a hot start and impressive fourth quarter. Dallas was outscored 58-38 in the middle periods. ... and then was crushed in the OT.
The Mavericks wasted a 20-point game from Fisher, who fouled out in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the Mavs offense was simply stagnate for long stretches of the game. There was rarely a Dallas player willing to create any shots for his teammates. There was a lot of one-pass-and-shoot possessions compared to the Minnesota offense, which showcased great ball movement led by Rubio. Turnovers were once again a problem for Dallas as they had 19 on Saturday night.
That's now three straight games with at least 17 turnovers -- a level of failure Dallas hasn't dipped to since 1998.
Barea had the same type of impact on the game that the Mavs had grown accustomed to for his five seasons in Dallas with 14 points off the bench. On the other hand, Darren Collison was underwhelming in his 35 minutes off the bench shooting just 2-of-8 in the game.
Despite everything going so poorly, Dallas mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter after having been down double-digits. Clutch shooting from Fisher and tough play down the stretch by Brand were big factors in the Mavericks tying the game and they were an O.J. Mayo 10-foot fadeaway short of taking the lead with just a few seconds left in the game.
But the shot rimmed out and by the time the game reached overtime Fisher and Vince Carter had already fouled out of the game. Tired legs and missed shots led to a non-competitive overtime period. Dominique Jones entered the game in the fourth quarter and made a big impact with four points and two assists while doing a good job of getting to the basket. But he was ineffective in the overtime period and the Mavs were outscored 12-4.
Outside of Shawn Marion's high-energy work (his double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds means he's done that in three straight games), there are not a ton of positives to take from the game. Mayo had another productive game and was really the only Mavericks that could create efficient shots for the team throughout the game. Mayo finished with 20 points, five points and six assists.
Fisher played tough throughout the game and scored more points than should be expected from him. Brand’s 15 points and seven rebounds were crucial to forcing overtime.
But underwhelming performances from Chris Kaman and others combined with the fatigue of the second night of a back-to-back led to a disappointing loss at a locale where the visiting Mavs had won 11 of the last 12 times.
The Dallas Mavericks went 0-3 on a road trip against Boston, Toronto and Minnesota. Dallas is now 0-7 in its last seven OT games.