MILWAUKEE -- With just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter on Monday night, the Dallas Mavericks were close to ending the Milwaukee Bucks' dominant 18-game winning streak. But a lead that had once reached 16 points was down to eight, and it didn't feel all that secure. Less than 30 seconds later, however, it did, thanks to back-to-back deep 3s by Kristaps Porzingis.
First, the Latvian big man took the ball from Tim Hardaway Jr., and despite being over 30 feet away from the basket, drained a 3 right in Giannis Antetokounmpo's face. On the next possession, he did the exact same thing in semi-transition, hitting nothing but net from just in front of the logo. All of a sudden, the Mavericks were up by 14 points and seemed in control.
"You know, that's plays that you have to tip your hat," Giannis said. "Both super deep. When you're trying to come back in the game and make a run and a guy knocks down shots like that, it's not just three points. It's a momentum shift and it destroys your confidence."
It turned out the Bucks' confidence wasn't completely broken, as they embarked on a furious comeback attempt over the final few minutes to make things interesting. But thanks to Porzingis' two 3s, the Mavericks had enough of a cushion that they were able to hold on for the 120-116 win to break the streak.
The Mavericks deserve plenty of praise for being the first team to beat the Bucks since early November, and the fact that they ended this streak on the road, and without Luka Doncic, only makes their accomplishment more impressive. Their MVP candidate sprained his ankle over the weekend, and this was their first full game without him this season.
The 20-year-old is nearly averaging a triple-double, putting up 29.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.9 assists per game, and without him in the lineup, it would be fair to expect the Mavericks to struggle. But against the Bucks they proved there's more to this team than just Doncic.
"I thought the real key to the game was the beginning," Carlisle said. "We had a big quarter and we took it from there. Guys like Porzingis had a spectacular game, [Seth] Curry was fantastic, [Dorian] Finney-Smith was great all around, Delon Wright jumped back into the lineup and gave us a huge night. We just had a lot of guys that contributed and played big."
The two 3s from Porzingis were key, and merit the attention they will get, but he played a strong all-around game to lead the Mavericks to the win. He finished with 26 points on 9-of-19 from the field, crashed the glass for 12 boards and was a presence on the defensive end. In particular, his block against Sterling Brown in the closing seconds helped save the game. Overall, it was an impressive statement for Porzingis to remind everyone that the Mavericks aren't just a one-man show.
"I'm just trying to play the right way, how we want to play as a team, and it's working for us," Porzingis said. "I don't want to try to do my own thing out there because it's going to mess up our whole flow with offense, and we want to keep winning. We want our offense to be good. I'll stick to doing that so that we can keep doing what we're doing."
The Mavericks own the best offense in the league and proved in this win that they're still a formidable force on that end even without Doncic. They put up 120 points and knocked down 16 3s against a Bucks team that entered as the best defense in the league. But as potent as Dallas' offense still is, they were helped out by a lackadaisical performance from the Bucks on the defensive end. Whether it was giving up easy layups on backdoor cuts, or wide open 3s, the Bucks were letting the Mavericks do whatever they wanted on offense to start the game, and never really recovered.
"Not our best night," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Certainly, credit Dallas. I think they're the number one offense in the league. We talked about that a little bit. They proved it tonight. They are well-coached, they execute and they shot it well in the first quarter. I think they had 36 [points]. We have to do a little bit better job of keeping the ball in front of us."
The offensive end wasn't much better for the Bucks. Giannis went for 48 points in another phenomenal performance, but everyone else combined for just 68 points on 26-of-74 shooting. It was more than just poor shooting, though, as the Bucks were plagued by sloppy plays that included loosing control of the ball for no reason on a number of occasions. One, in particular, summed up the game well.
After forcing a turnover late in the third quarter, the Bucks flew down the court on a 3-on-1 fastbreak. Sterling Brown fed the ball to George Hill, who looked to have an easy layup. Only, he never fully controlled the ball as he was going up. The Mavericks recovered it, went down the other end and Delon Wright scored on a backdoor layup.
Some nights you just don't have it, and the Bucks didn't have it on Monday. Still, as Budenholzer noted, this game wasn't just about the Bucks' poor play; the Mavericks earned this win with their early effort and strong shooting. Now, they're 18-8, and sit in third place in the West after a terrific start to the season.
"We're a team that has high expectations and high goals for ourselves," Porzingis said. "We want to try to win every game. That's how we feel and that's the confidence that we have in ourselves."
They'll have their work cut out for them in a top-heavy Western Conference, especially until Doncic is back on the floor. But after their streak-breaking win on Monday night, it's hard to argue with that.