The Mavericks won again on Wednesday, beating the Rockets 88-86 for their fifth straight win. There's a clear trend in the wins -- in all five, Dallas has held their opponent under 90 points. Without Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams to generate much offense, and with Dirk Nowitzki struggling, the Mavericks only real way to win is through the defensive end. So far, it's working.
Defense was the foremost topic in the Mavericks' locker room after the game. In their own words, here's what happened in the final three-plus minutes, when Dallas held Houston to just a point. Justin Anderson put Dallas up 86-65 by splitting a pair of free throws with 2:51 left.
James Harden misses a 3-pointer with 2:28 left.
Rick Carlisle: Houston is a high-scoring team. They are very talented and the highest 4th quarter scoring team in basketball. What they have been doing is seducing people into getting into up and down games in the fourth and we felt we needed to keep it close and not allow that to happen. We got a little fortunate.
Justin Anderson: Ironman. You know, he's out here gettin' it, by any means necessary. That dude is a tank. His will to win, I'm just so happy to be playing besides a guy like that so early in my career because when I look at guys I want to model my career, he's one of them.
Anderson: When (Salah) came to the bench (earlier), it was the one that he blocked on Harden, and I said Salah, if you didn't get that one, I had your back. I smacked the glass on that one. And so I was like, "Good block, boy, keep getting it." Then I was like, watch, I'm gonna get one. And sure enough, down the stretch, an opportunity presented itself, and I haven't even seen it yet, but I guess I got it pretty good if everyone's keep asking me.
Carlisle: Anderson's blocked shot is a big time winning play.
Matthews: Justin made a huge play.
Both teams trade missed shots. James Harden forces a missed Dirk jumper with 0:29 left. Harden drives and is stripped by Dirk on the next play.
Matthews, on if he thought Dirk's biggest play this season would be a steal: [laughs] Uh, no.
Dirk: He comes so fast down the lane. I've tried to strip him a 100 times over the years He's so smart getting that contact. He's always getting to the line. I was actually surprised that I got all ball.
Matthews: Dirk made a huge play and I was just trying to make it as difficult as possible. He's a hell of a scorer, hell of a player, but hey, it was either them or us.
Devin Harris makes two free throws, putting Dallas up 88-85. The Mavericks intentionally foul Jason Terry, who makes the first and intentionally misses the second. In a scramble for the rebound, Wesley Matthews deflects the ball and slaps it from going out of bounds as the clock expires. There's a lot of contact with Terry, but it isn't called.
Carlisle: He made the best deflection and save I've ever at the end of a game in my 32 years (in the NBA).
Matthews: I saw when they subbed, they didn't have any timeouts left, so they were banking on getting an offensive rebound and go right back up, and I saw the ball go long, I was able to hit it down. It was going out of bounds, and that's not the type of team you want to give another shot to, another set piece to, so it was just instinct to get that thing out of there.
Carlisle: Matthews' deflection and then diving save to expire the clock is a winning play. Because if you give these guys the ball with 0.2 seconds, they will get it into the hole as they did in the third quarter (when Dwight tipped in a lob pass). They have that kind of talent. I give a lot of credit to our guys. We lived to fight another day.
Matthews: We want to play in the postseason. We're not going home early. We fought too hard this year. We've come from too much adversity, and battled through too many games, that we're not ready for our season to be done.