Nobody will ever claim it was pretty, but the Dallas Mavericks will have to walk away happy with the Wednesday result.
After leading by as many as 25 points in the second half, Dallas looked like it was cruising to an easy win over a seemingly worn out Blazers team that suffered a brutal loss to the Kings just 24 hours earlier. Just when all seemed lost for Rip City, the Blazers came firing back behind 20 third-quarter points from Damian Lillard and closed the gap to just 10 heading into the final 12 minutes. Fortunately for Dallas, the Blazers just couldn’t muster the energy for the final haymaker, allowing the Mavs to survive, 96-95.
“It’s another routine Mavs win,” Carlisle joked.
Look, the NBA is a tough league, and back-to-backs are even tougher, so when you are facing a team who is taking the court for the second time in 24 hours, you need to take advantage of it. The Mavs nearly lost that chance, thanks to some sloppy play on both ends, and some hot shooting from Lillard.
For about 30 minutes Wednesday, Portland looked dead in the water, shooting just 37.8 percent from the field, with Dallas shooting a robust 50 percent. The Mavs entered what seemed like “cruise control,” and allowed Lillard to nearly hand them what would’ve been their most devastating loss of the year. And let’s face it, if Lillard hadn’t fumbled two consecutive opportunities at a knock-out blow in the final 15 seconds of the game (thanks in large part to some salty Wesley Matthews D), that is exactly what would have happened.
The Mavs shot just 34 percent from the floor in the second half of play, scoring just 34 points, while allowing their opponent to shoot 51.4 percent and score 57 points.
The Mavs were led by Harrison Barnes’ 28 points and seven rebounds on 10-22 shooting, and Deron Williams hit some huge shots down the stretch on his way to a second consecutive 23-point outing, but it was Wesley Matthews — the former Blazers “IronMan” — who gets this writer’s nominee for “The Dirkie.” (Which you can vote on here!)
Lillard did score 29 points on 10-23 on 43-percent shooting, but Wes was able to check him when it counted.
Matthews, who scored 16 points on 6-16 shooting, showcased his defensive chops in the final couple of minutes of regulation, locking down Lillard. He even came away with three steals on the night, including a game-saving steal and score with 1:38 left to go on the clock.
“I go up against a lot of great players night in and night out, and obviously (Lillard) is a former teammate,” Matthews said. “I know the kind of ‘clutch gene’ he has, but I was just trying to play tendencies, be aggressive and just trying to speed him up to make him uncomfortable. And we ended up getting the stop when we needed.”
The Mavs team defense on a whole was very solid as well, forcing the Blazers into 17 turnovers (with 16 points off of those turnovers), notching 12 steals, and tallying five blocks (three of which belonged to Salah Mejri). Dallas also held one of the most talented pure scorers in the league in C.J. McCollum to just 13 points on 5-16 shooting.
Yes, the second half was ugly. In fact, it was beyond ugly; we are talking Jabba the Hutt levels of gross here. But the Mavs were somehow able to survive, and notch their second road win of the year, moving them to 8-21 on the year. And at this point, the Mavs will take wins no matter how they come.
“This is good that we’re going through this and having to withstand big runs in tough buildings,” Carlisle said. “You’re going to come up against some adversity on the road. But every time something bad happened we responded with composure, aggression and togetherness, and that was a great sign.”
The Mavs will try and take this momentum into the City of Angels on Friday night, where they take on a 21-8 Clippers team that has won five of its last six games going into their Thursday night matchup with the Spurs. The Clippers will be coming off of a back-to-back against one of the best teams in the NBA, and will be without their leading scorer, Blake Griffin, who was lost for an extended period of time due to a knee injury.
The Mavs, meanwhile, have the Big German listed as questionable heading into Friday’s game, leaving the door open (however slightly) for his return to action. Its hard to put into words how much having Dirk Nowitzki on the floor would mean to this basketball team, but there is no sense in rushing him back to action, especially in an extremely tough matchup with a very good Clippers team. And While we don’t expect Dirk to see the floor just yet, his impending return has both his teammates and the fans excited.