DALLAS -- A 29-year-old rookie who came off the bench in a D-League game the previous night harassed two All-Star starters in clutch situations Friday night.
According to Salah Mejri, that’s really not as surprising as it sounds. He reminded the horde of reporters surrounding his locker -- a rare sight in itself -- that he had blocks against Oklahoma City Thunder superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook while playing for Tunisia against Team USA.
“So that was not something new for them,” Mejri said. “Maybe it’s new here in the U.S., but they know me. They know that I’m a shot-blocker. It may sound funny, but it’s the truth.”
This may sound funny, but it’s the truth: Mejri made a major impact for the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, just the second time he has played meaningful minutes this season. The Mavs’ comeback fell short in the 109-106 loss, but the game wouldn’t have come down to the final possession if not for Mejri.
Dallas was down 15 points when coach Rick Carlisle summoned Mejri off the bench with 7 minutes, 59 seconds remaining. The fact that Mejri had 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting and nine rebounds in last week’s loss to the Thunder -- after having no points and five rebounds in his previous five NBA appearances -- had something to do with Carlisle giving the skinny 7-foot-2 center the call.
And there was one other significant factor in Carlisle’s decision to give Mejri a shot.
“I made the change because we were getting our ass kicked six ways to Sunday,” Carlisle said.
That changed when Mejri checked in for only the seventh time this season for the Mavs. He presented problems for the Thunder on pick-and-rolls, slicing down the lane for a layup and earning a pair of trips to the free throw line. He made his presence felt in the paint on the other end, a major reason why the Thunder scored only six points in the final five minutes, when Mejri had his highlight-reel blocks.
“I’m doing my job,” Mejri said. “I’m not trying to do something super crazy. And that’s it.”
Why haven’t we seen more of Mejri?
Zaza Pachulia being so solid has a lot to do with it. So does JaVale McGee's intriguing potential after rehabbing from complications stemming from a stress fracture in his leg. And, frankly, Mejri hasn’t exactly been impressive during practices or even dominant in the D-League, although those games aren’t exactly suited for role-playing big men.
“He’s a gamer. He really is,” Wesley Matthews said. “He’s one of those guys that know how to play. He may not look like it at all, but when the lights are on, he turns into a different person.”
Should we see more of Mejri? The rookie said that was a question for Carlisle, but added a few thoughts of his own.
“Everybody was talking about my last game against OKC,” Mejri said. “They were like, ‘Salah has to play more, Salah has to get more minutes,’ and the next game I was in a suit. So it’s not my decision. I control what I can control.
“I control working hard and doing things the coach likes and doing things that will make me be better. Then playing time will come, like today. You never know when the opportunity will come, but when the opportunity comes, you have to take it.”
Well, will we see more of Mejri?
“It’s certainly possible,” Carlisle said. “I don’t hesitate to call anybody’s number on our roster; everybody’s played when it counts. He’s one guy that’s been kind of an odd man out because of our depth at the center position. In these two games, he’s making a case that he deserves some minutes.”
Will we see anything more in Mejri’s game if he gets more minutes?
“I think you guys saw everything,” Mejri said, drawing laughter from the media crowd. “That’s my game.”