The game was tied at 91 with 2:59 to go in regulation, but Dallas closed the fourth quarter on a 12-7 run that led to a 103-98 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. Dirk Nowitzki had a rough stretch in the game, but came up huge to finish the game as he had 8 of the Mavericks' final 12 points. In the final frame, Dirk went 5-7 from the field, 2-2 from the free throw line and had 12 points total. He finished the game with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks.
Dirk had a field goal at the 9:24 mark of the 1st quarter and didn't get his next made field goal until the 6:40 mark of the final quarter to give the Mavericks an 86-79 lead. "They played a lot of zone (defense) and I kind of settled for some threes there that just weren't going my way and I never really got a good rhythm," said Nowitzki. "(In the 4th quarter) I was able to get to the high post, make a move there and get a layup. Then, I got two free throws in the 4th quarter and that definitely helped me to get going and I was able to knock some big shots down. Sometimes, all a shooter needs is a layup and two free throws and that was great."
After practice on Tuesday, coach Rick Carlisle said he was curious to see how his team would respond after the loss to Milwaukee. "I like the way we played from start to finish," Carlisle said after the win. "It was a junked-up kind of game, so it was about making basketball plays. We made enough of those when it counted, and we got the stops that we needed." He continued, “We had some difficult stretches. Their zone was a little frustrating. We were getting good shots and not hitting them early. The guys stuck with it. They just kept attacking hard and for the most part we did a pretty good job of attacking the zone." The zone defense essentially left the Mavericks jump-shooting team for a better part of the game. The ball movement was good and they had open shots but they just didn't go down.
The Mavericks have put themselves in tough spots but on a night like tonight, they found a way to win. "This is NBA basketball," Carlisle said. "It is the best basketball in the world, and it is not going to be easy. You are going to have to fight for everything. Each possession is gonna be a challenge. Good teams are going to continue to attack. Hey, when it got down to two or whatever it was, I like the way we gathered ourselves. We put the ball in the basket and were able to get stops. And that is what you got to do."
Dallas did hold Portland to 14 first quarter points, a new season-low in terms of points for a quarter. "I thought in the first quarter, we gave up 25 shots in the first quarter which is an inordinate number because of all the offensive rebounds and second chances," said Carlisle. "That was the really disappointing part of the game, our start. But after that, you just have to keep working."
As they had done during their win streak, the Mavericks opened up a big lead, this one reaching 17 points early in the third quarter. But again, the Mavericks struggled to protect the double-digit edge, allowing an 11-0 Blazers run to give the team hope. "We had a big lead there again, and just hit a bad stretch again," Nowitzki said. "We just couldn’t get any stops."
Over their last six games, the Mavericks have only had 2 quarters in the second halves of games out of a possible 12 where they held opponents below their quarterly averages. The Mavericks came in to tonight's game allowing 24.3 points in the third quarters of games and 22.5 in the fourth quarters. The third quarter of the Golden State game (24) and the fourth quarter of the New Jersey game (20) are the only quarters that have been at or below the average. Tonight they allowed Portland to score 29 and 30 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.
"Again, we found ourselves up only two and we had to figure out how to get a basket, because their zone was effective," Jason Kidd added. "So, we went to Dirk a couple of times to get them out of the zone, and he responded and made big plays for us. Again, when we win ball games, we always look at the defensive side first, and we got stops when we needed to." Jason Kidd was a zone-buster of sorts, the Mavericks shot 18.8% from three point range (3-16) and Kidd shot 3-3 from long range.
Caron Butler finished tying a season-high with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists on the night. The Mavericks improved to 3-0 on the year when he leads the team in scoring. "Butler has done a great job for us. He’s always aggressive. He plays an aggressive game. And he has no fear of big shots or big situations," Carlisle said.
A critical advantage for the Mavericks was the +9 in free throws made (20-11), Portland missed 7 free throw attempts and Dallas only missed one. "We had a good night (at the free-throw line). And in a game like this that’s a tight game, every point is going to count," Carlisle said.
Brendan Haywood only played 9:58 minutes of game action, scoring 2 points (both free throws) and pulled down just one rebound. Carlisle didn't let the media have a chance to ask about the backup center. "I'll just address that, I think it's important," said Carlisle. "Brendan is our guy, but in situations where we feel we need a little more energy and quickness in the game, that's why I look to go to Ian (Mahinmi). It was just a tough game for (Brendan). He was unable to get much going around the basket...Ian did a very good job when he got in there, but Brendan is going to be our guy on most nights."
When asked about if Haywood's overall body language is an issue, Carlisle responded, "If that's the case, there's probably some frustration. This guy's been a starting center for 10 years. We're asking him to do something that's a big adjustment," Carlisle continued. "Shawn Marion has made the same adjustment. Brendan works hard. I guarantee you he'll be one of the first guys in here doing cardio. He's a big part of our team." As of late, Haywood hasn't been available to the media but he is keeping himself busy by working on cardio after the game.
The Mavericks go for back-to-back wins on Friday night as they hit the floor to wrap up their longest home-stand of the season. Dallas welcomes back former Maverick Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns Friday night.
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