O.J. Mayo might have won the battle (slightly), but Monta Ellis won the war.
In a battle of shooting guards facing their former teams, Ellis (18 points on 14 shots, 5 ast, 4 to) helped the Mavericks race to a 15-point first quarter lead and hold off the Bucks' now-customary second half rally, as Dallas snapped a two-game losing streak 91-83 in Milwaukee. While the Mavs cooled off from a hot-shooting start over the game's final three quarters, the Bucks struggled to convert inside the three point line all night long (11/23 from three, 20/58 twos) and needed a sloppy third quarter from Dallas to help them get back in the game.
Mayo hit three triples in the first quarter and led the Bucks with 28 points on 20 shots, but his five fourth quarter turnovers spelled doom for a Bucks team once again playing without Larry Sanders (thumb), Ersan Ilyasova (ankle) and Luke Ridnour (back). The only other Buck who made an impact of any kind was Caron Butler, who grabbed 12 of the Bucks' meager 20 defensive rebounds and added 19 points on a not-so-hot 7/19 shooting. Dallas not surprisingly had better balance, though you couldn't say that Shawn Marion (14 points on 6/12 shooting, 10 rebounds), Dirk Nowitzki (5/15 fg, 16 pts) and Vince Carter (4/11 fg, 13 pts) were exactly feeling it either. In short: this wasn't the Mavs' best effort by any imagination, but one quarter of brilliant basketball was enough on a night that saw the Bucks shoot just 38% and turn it over 20 times.
Despite 13 first quarter points from Mayo, the Mavericks raced to a 34-19 first quarter lead by playing fast and working the Bucks over with crisp passing, as three triples from Calderon (his only points in the game) and six points from Ellis had the Bucks reeling early on. Dallas continued to lead 64-47 early in the third quarter, but from there the game got ragged to the Bucks' benefit. Seven points from Butler inspired a 16-2 run that narrowed the gap to 66-63 on a layup by Brandon Knight, who returned from a three-game absence with six points (3/7 fg) and a single assist in 15 minutes off the bench.
But the Bucks couldn't get over the hump. Back-to-back lazy passes from Knight and Mayo led to two Maverick layups early in the fourth, while DeJuan Blair predictably embarrassed Ekpe Udoh on the offensive glass when the Mavs did miss. Five straight points from Mayo narrowing Dallas' lead to 83-81 inside three minutes, but a Dalembert putback restored breathing room and Nowitzki clinched it with a patented Dirk jumper following another Mayo turnover.
- Starting for the second straight game in place of Sanders and Ilyasova, John Henson and Zaza Pachulia couldn't continue their early season magic tonight, struggling to a combined 4/14 shooting, 12 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 turnovers in 64 combined minutes. The Mavs did a nice job disrupting the high-low action they've had so much success with to date, as Henson in particular struggled to get touches inside five feet.
- Henson also got a nice education on the defensive end, putting up a very uneven effort against one of the all-time great in Nowitzki. Henson didn't do Nate Wolters many favors defending in P&R and Nowitzki got him to bite on a couple regrettable pump-fake fouls to boot. Still, the Bucks will happily take Dirk's 5/15 final shooting line against the defense of Henson, Butler and Khris Middleton.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo DNP-CD'd for the second straight game, an obvious indicator that Larry Drew isn't exactly going out of his way to get his rookie regular burn. Butler played a season-high 38 minutes (his first time cracking 30 since opening night) while Middleton got 18, and it stands to reason that those two will block Giannis' ability to get on the floor with any regularity until further notice. I'm guessing we'll see Giannis get a look again in the next game or two, but Butler isn't getting benched anytime soon and Middleton has been too good defensively to keep on the bench.
- Nate Wolters got burned by Calderon early and never really seemed to make much impact. The good news is that not playing well did't mean that he played poorly: he still managed five assists, two steals, a block and just one turnover (a lobbed pass for Zaza that could have been a layup if he had been more aware).
- The Bucks' struggles on the defensive glass aren't anything new, but there's something particularly frustrating about watching Drew roll out a small lineup with Ekpe Udoh in the middle. Udoh looked utterly helpless trying to corral rebounds against Blair (11 rebounds in 22 minutes) and missed all three of his shot attempts to boot. Let's hope Larry Sanders' thumb (and his confidence) are back soon.