The Dallas Mavericks (34-36) pulled out a big win Sunday night against the Utah Jazz (34-36), winning 113 to 108. Mike James, of all people, led the Mavericks with 19 points and five assists. Paul Millsap lead the way for the Jazz in defeat, stuffing the box score with 15 points, nine rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
This was an enormous win for the Mavericks, who are still two games under .500, but more importantly, are also two games out from the elusive eighth seed in the west. With just 12 games remaining, this was not a game the Mavericks could afford to lose.
The first quarter was a back and forth affair. Maverick coach Rick Carlisle opted to start Brandan Wright at center, despite the potential match up problems that a big and versatile Utah front court could cause. Al Jefferson got off to a hot start early, using his superior strength and footwork to score over Wright. O.J. Mayo kept Dallas alive early, hitting two long threes from the top of the key. Mike James, getting his eleventh start of the year, scored twice on drives in the paint and also found Shawn Marion for a sweet dime after getting his own rebound on a short three point attempt.
After a timeout and some substitutions, Wright had a ridiculous follow dunk from a Vince Carter shot that hung on the rim just a bit too long for the Jazz to grab it. Elton Brand, coming in off his first "Did Not Play - Coach's Decision" of the year, entered the game looking spry and became the first Dallas defender to challenge Jefferson on post position. Dirk Nowitzki ended the quarter for Dallas with a nasty fade away over an attempted Jazz double team. The Jazz led after one period, 27 to 24 with All Jefferson scoring 11.
The Mavericks saw their offense dry up for parts of the second quarter before rallying back to take a lead into half time. Darren Collison was able to dish two fantastic assists as a result of his own penetration. Each time Brand made a late cut from the baseline behind the backboard to the low block, making a big target Collison was able to find with ease. Dirk was finally able to tie the game at 33 a piece before Mo Williams answered back with five straight points. Utah built a 42-35 lead when Chris Kaman made a bad in bounds that lead to a Marvin Williams dunk attempt. Somehow Kaman was able to bother Williams just enough so that he missed the dunk. Collison took Kaman's outlet pass and fed Vince Carter who hit an open three to give Dallas some life.
After trading buckets for a few possessions, a Mike James corner three and a Dirk fade away near the free throw line gave Dallas a 49-48 lead. Paul Milsap answered immediately to retake the lead. Following Brand and Millsap trading buckets, Dirk hit another tough fall away, this time from the left baseline to give Dallas a 53-52 lead going into the break. Dallas managed to hold Al Jefferson scoreless for the period while Dirk lead Dallas with 11 points and 5 rebounds for the half.
The second half opened with some incredibly exciting back and forth basketball. Gordan Hayward started with a tough shot over Shawn Marion, but Dirk answered with a trailing three. Millsap looked to make up for not closing out on Dirk and immediately took back the lead with a lay up and free throw. Mayo and Millsap then traded buckets before Millsap helped the Jazz retake the lead again with a put back lay up. The next possession Dirk was doubled on the left short corner baseline area, and was able to find a cutting Marion along the right baseline for a dunk. Randy Foye answered with a three to give the Jazz a 64-62 lead. Threes from Mike Jams and Shawn Marion helped keep the game tight when the Jazz were able to keep scoring. Al Jefferson tied the game at 69 all, when Rick Carlisle called a timeout.
During the timeout, Carlisle clearly challenged Brand to make an impact defensively. Lead by Brand's defense (two huge blocks), the Mavericks only allowed two points over an eight minute stretch, starting at the 5:35 mark of the third and ending 9:37 mark of the fourth. Over that time, the Mavericks poured in 20 points, taking a decisive lead that the Jazz weren't able to recover from. With just under six minutes in the fourth, Dallas eased off a bit offensively with the score 100-80. With Dirk and most of the starters resting, the Jazz did their best to make Dallas very uncomfortable, closing to as close as three points before simply running out of time. Dallas won 113-108.
-Carlisle stuck with the same group over the final two minutes, despite that group letting the lead whittle away as they were unable to make even the most basic basketball decision. Breaking a press is not something NBA players have to do often, but come on guys, you're still NBA players.The ending to the game shouldn't take away from how well the team played for 42 of the 48 minutes, but yeesh, that was a terrible way to end a game. Still a win is a win.
-We're hard on Mike James here, so I feel it's important to note he's played back to back good games. On Friday he was a floor general, looking to get everyone involved. Against the Jazz he looked more to score. As long as he isn't shot hunting, I'm good with Mike James (famous last words, I know).
-The first time Dallas played Utah this season, the Mavericks were out rebounded by 20. Tonight, they lost the battle by just four rebounds, though I assume that comes from the fact that Dallas couldn't score or defend the final six minutes of the game.
-Coming off a monster performance, Brandan Wright struggled in a big way, going 3 for 11 from the field. In days gone by, when Wright couldn't score, he actively hurt Dallas because he couldn't contribute anywhere else. However, against the Jazz, his help defense was crucial and his offensive presence opened things up for other players.
-Ah Dirk fall away jumpers. I love you.
-Is O.J. Mayo still on the team? I haven't seen him in weeks.
See you all Tuesday!