DALLAS -- Jason Terry wasn’t joking when he declared that his goal for the West finals was to outperform Oklahoma City’s whole bench.
So far, so good. Terry produced 24 points in the Mavs’ Game 1 win, which was two more than the total of all the Thunder’s reserves.
And Terry might not even be the Thunder’s biggest problem off the Mavs’ bench. Itty-bitty J.J. Barea is in the conversation after making repeated trips to the paint while lighting it up for 21 points in 16 minutes.
That performance by the Mavs’ backup point guard definitely can’t be considered a fluke. After all, Barea had 22 points and eight assists in the finale of Dallas’ sweep of the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, a performance overshadowed by Terry’s record-setting shooting performance.
“Barea is a handful,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s a terrific player. He breaks the defense down with his toughness [and] with his playmaking ability.”
The Mavs are hard to beat when Terry, the perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate, gets in a groove. They are 22-4, including 5-1 in the playoffs, when he scores at least 20 points.
Dallas is just as difficult to beat when Barea gets going. The Mavs are 11-2, including 2-0 in the playoffs, when he scores at least 15 points.
If both of the Mavs’ munchkins are feelin’ it, well, the foe can pretty much forget it.
Along with Peja Stojakovic, who had an off night in the opener against Oklahoma City, Barea and Terry are fueling the most prolific bench in these playoffs. Dallas’ reserves averaged 49.5 points in the sweep against the Lakers and put up 53 on Tuesday night.
That trio is part of a unit -- with Dirk Nowitzki at power forward and Brendan Haywood as the paint-protecting big man -- that has been remarkably effective during the playoffs despite playing only 41 minutes together during the regular season.
With Terry and Stojakovic on the weak side, Barea and Nowitzki give opponents fits with a high pick-and-roll. With the opposing power forward forced to hug Nowitzki, Barea has been penetrating almost at will, resulting in a lot of layups for him and wide-open 3-pointers for Terry and Stojakovic. When Dirk gets the ball on the pop, it’s a deadly option.
“As much attention as Dirk is drawing, guys like myself, Stojakovic and J.J. are going to have opportunities,” said Terry, who was 4-of-8 from 3-point range and 8-of-16 from the floor overall. “Taking advantage of those opportunities is key.”
Oklahoma City tried to cheat by sneaking behind the pick a few times. Barea made the Thunder pay, going 2-of-3 on 3-pointers. He also caught Nate Robinson looking for a pick and embarrassed the former slam dunk king with a crossover that left Robinson’s legs wobbling as Barea made an uncontested layup.
“I’m glad it’s working out,” Barea said. “We’ve got our shooters around, so they’re going to be hung up on the shooters. I’ve got Dirk setting the screen and they don’t want to leave him. I’ve just got to keep being aggressive and playing my game. Some nights it’s gonna work, some nights not.”
The Mavs are betting on it working much more often than not.
“He’s playing at a high level and we all expect that,” Jason Kidd said. “His confidence is high, and we’re going to need him to play like this.”
If that happens and Barea's bench backcourt partner stays hot, those parade plans from five years ago could finally be put to use.