A checklist exists for Mavericks-Clippers games this season. The game has be close into the final minute, put triple-digits on the scoreboard, have plenty of 3-pointers, exchange heated words between a Maverick and Matt Barnes. And ultimately, Dallas has to blow a double-digit lead and lose in frustrating fashion.
Dirk Nowitzki missed his final six shots and the Clippers beat the Mavericks 109-103, falling to 0-3 against Los Angeles with one more to play. Dallas scored 22 points in the fourth quarter, but only seven of them came in the last six minutes as an offense lapsed into isolations and post-ups and sputtered.
Usually those Dirk low-post jumpers can be counted on for crucial baskets, but not tonight. A couple of his patented one-foot fades fell short, and one of them never materialized, with Dirk forcing a pass at the last moment that ended up in a half-court violation. Even going to the line after being fouled on a 3-pointer, Dirk hit just one of three (6-of-10 for the game).
Without Dirk's reliable touch, the Mavericks' offense disintegrated, and no amount of inspired defense was holding down the best offense in the league for five straight minutes.
But despite those final six minutes, Dallas and Los Angeles' back-and-forth volleys throughout the game must have entertained a neutral viewer. A scuffle in the third quarter told us what we already knew -- these teams don't like each other. Paul gave Marion a shove in the back during play, and at the dead ball, Marion expressed his displeasure to Matt Barnes (who he probably thought was the one who pushed him). The result was a double technical on those two and a single one on Paul for taunting.
Each team finished with three technicals.
After a deep Chris Paul three, the Clippers led 75-68 in the third and looked like they might be ready to pull away until Dirk said no. A couple of his jump shots, sandwiched by a Vince Carter 3-pointer, helped the Mavericks finished the third knotted at 81 all. At the moment, Dirk's shooting line was a gorgeous 7-of-9.
Strangely enough, the Mavericks might not have even been there if not for the play of Jae Crowder (13 points on 5-of-5 shooting, 4 rebounds), who gave the team the spark they needed to explode for a 16-2 run that started right about the 10 minute mark.
The man known as "the Beast" by the AAC PA man gets his fair share of criticism for a lack of production on the court, but his activity had the Clippers on their heels. Dirk found him on a couple of dive cuts straight to the rim when his defender inexplicably stopped guarding him. He buries a contested corner jumper (foot on the line) to beat the shot clock. And after a wild sequence of two out-of-bounds save-ins and Wright finding himself wide open for a dunk, Jae stole the in-bounds just second later for a layup. The Clippers would call timeout after a Dirk 3-pointer the next possession.
Encouraging was that for parts of the game, the Mavericks were able to play decent defense. The Clippers still ended with 109 points, but certain lineups were really able to disrupt the rhythm and consistency of "Lob City."
But after excellent play and ball movement from the Mavs' offense, the team's lack of focus in the final minutes cost them what would have potentially been a huge win. The teams meet again next Thursday, with the Mavericks looking to avoid being swept.
After three overtimes in four games, I had a sinking feeling we might see an exhausted team without much fight. I was very wrong about their levels of effort, with scrappy play from start to finish, but I wonder how much of an impact fatigue had on the final five minutes.
Dirk in the low-post is usually a winning proposition, and his late-game attempts looked no different than shots he's made all season. But his late-game struggles are becoming a pattern over the past two weeks, so it's strange to see Rick stick to them so consistently. During those final six minutes, Monta and Dirk didn't run more than one or two pick-and-roll -- and they were immediately abandoned after nothing came of them.
Unforced miscues hurt the Mavericks. 17 turnovers isn't an ungodly number, but many were unforced. Devin Harris let a simple backcourt exchange go threw his fingers, and later, wildly tried to squeeze a pass that he had no business ever throwing. Nine free throws were missed. Vince Carter committed a textbook clear path foul. And while they were in response to bad calls, the Mavericks gave away a couple of points by jabbering to the referees enough to earn a technical.
Give credit to Vince for tying his season-high with a huge 23 points on 13 shots. It was his seventh 20-plus point game this season.
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