DALLAS -- With the media swarmed around Dennis Smith Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith walked to his locker in the next stall Sunday night and jokingly greeted his Dallas Mavericks teammate: "Ruthless toothless!"
Smith had most of his right front tooth fly out of his mouth when it was broken near the top by Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley's elbow during a fight for a loose ball late in the third quarter. Smith returned to the game and made major contributions to the Mavs' 114-110 win over the Clippers, including the game-sealing block, rebound and free throws.
"I thought it was one of the best competitive things I've seen in a long time," coach Rick Carlisle said, raving about the Mavs' second-year point guard after Dallas defeated the West-leading Clippers despite the absence of rookie star Luka Doncic due to a strained right hip.
The Clippers were trailing by two points when they caught Smith on a switch against forward Tobias Harris and fed their leading scorer in the post. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Smith held his ground against the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Harris before blocking his five-foot turnaround jumper with 12 seconds remaining. Smith grabbed the rebound and calmly drained the dagger free throws.
"That's winning stuff right there," Carlisle said. "That's great stuff."
Smith said he knew the Clippers would go to Harris after the switch, and he anticipated which move was coming, which allowed him to use his 48-inch vertical leap to make the block.
"Yeah, they thought they had an advantage. They thought. They thought," Smith said, repeating himself for emphasis. "Earlier, I had guarded him, and he did the same exact move. They called me for a foul, so I was just anticipating he was going to do the same move again. I got lucky, and I was right and went up to go get it."
Smith was all smiles during his postgame meeting with the media. He has a dentist appointment on Monday, but he found a temporary fix for the tooth, which was in place after the game.
"I'm fooling y'all right now," said Smith, who had nine points, five assists, two steals and two blocks in the win. "I knew there was going to be cameras. Whenever there's cameras, then it's going to social media. Whenever it's social media, then there's ladies lookin'. When there's ladies lookin', I gotta be lookin' nice. I had to fool y'all right now."
Other Mavs had much more impressive lines in the box score on Sunday. Center DeAndre Jordan had 16 points and a season-high 23 rebounds in his first meeting with his former team, though he denied that he had any extra incentive for this game. Forward Harrison Barnes had 30 points and nine rebounds. Guard J.J. Barea had a season-high 24 points off the Dallas bench.
But Smith's effort down the stretch, especially on the defensive end, epitomized the toughness and resilience that Dallas has displayed while winning nine of its past 12 games. The Mavs have allowed only 102.7 points per 100 possessions in those dozen games, the fourth-best defensive rating in the league in that span.
"Defense really is about more than just a spectacular play on the ball at any given point in the game," Carlisle said. "It's a mindset, it's toughness, and it's a disposition. Everybody has taken on our identity as a defense-first team, and Dennis is a great example of that. He is one of the leaders of our team, too."
Smith said he didn't think the elbow from Beverley, which occurred with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter, was intentional. Smith exited after winning the ensuing jump ball and returned with 10:45 remaining in the fourth quarter. He played the rest of the game.
"It's just a freak accident," Smith said. "I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose. I'm sure that wasn't his intentions, but it happens. Come back in, finish the game, we got a win. That's all that matters.
"I love when the game gets like that. I love when it gets like that. You can go out there, get mad, play with some intensity, heart. When it gets chippy, it's just like playing back home. That's the best way to play."
Beverley approached the Mavs' bench to say, "my bad," during a break in play soon after Smith's tooth was broken. Smith said Beverley, who was later ejected after an incident with a Mavs fan, checked on him immediately after the play.
With the Mavs' victory, Smith found humor in the loss of his tooth.
"I'm still pretty as a girl," he said. "I'm still pretty, so I'm good."