(Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
Earl K. Sneed recaps the Dallas Mavericks' regular-season home finale against Golden State, after the defending champions celebrated a 12th straight trip to the playoffs with a victory at the American Airlines Center.
Recap: Warriors 94 at Mavericks 104
DALLAS — “Nothing changes.”
Those were among some of the few words Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle spoke just a day after his team clinched a playoff berth for the 12th straight season thanks to Houston’s overtime loss on Thursday night in New Orleans.
Originally believing that it would take a win over the Golden State Warriors to advance to the postseason on Friday night, Carlisle and his players still approached their home regular-season finale as if it were a must-win game. And with just a half-game edge over Denver for the sixth spot in the Western Conference standings, the Mavs entered the first of their final three tests before the playoffs with the same intensity as Wednesday night’s 117-110 win over the very same Houston squad that paved the way for the defending champions to return to the 16-team tournament.
Although they’d have to work into the fourth quarter to finally put the struggling Warriors away, the Mavericks (36-28) would in fact continue to put the pressure on themselves to perform well. The reigning titleholders then continued to trend in the upward direction after a 104-94 victory.
“We’ve gotta do a good job still of keeping the pressure up and still compete,” leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki said after the win. “You don’t wanna lollygag a week before the playoffs. … We’ve gotta keep the pedal to the medal here.”
“You’re not looking for any pressure to be taken off of you,” new addition Delonte West echoed. “You’ve gotta thrive in pressure situations to be a championship team and we don’t really feel any pressure. You know, it is what it is.”
The Warriors (22-40) would come out of the gate strong while trying to end their six-game losing streak. But the Mavs would charge right back, however, behind balanced scoring to offset two quick fouls for Nowitzki. And led by backup big man Ian Mahinmi’s seven points off the bench, the Mavs led 27-22 after one quarter of play despite Klay Thompson’s nine points in the period.
With sixth man Jason Terry and reserve big man Brandan Wright finding success while speeding up the tempo, the Mavs’ lead grew. Meanwhile, new addition Kelenna Azubuike saw his first action as a Mav and first in the NBA since November of 2009 after signing with the team on March 23.
But after Wright’s above-the-rim play lifted the Mavs to as much as an 11-point lead, the Warriors trimmed their deficit to just 50-49 entering the half.
Despite his foul trouble, the Mavs got 12 points from Nowitzki on 5-of-7 shooting to battle Thompson’s 18 first-half points, although Dallas went 0-of-10 at the midway mark from behind the 3-point arc in the half as a team. Led by 13 points from Wright on 6-of-6 shooting to go along with seven rebounds in the half, however, the Mavericks surged to the first-half advantage despite being slightly outshot through two quarters, 44.4 percent to 44.2 percent.
“I think Brandan Wright has been great for us all year long with his role — great touch around the basket, blocking shots, getting rebounds,” Nowitzki said of his young teammate.
An alley-oop to Jeremy Tyler got the Warriors on the board first as the second half commenced, boosting the visiting team to the brief lead. The Mavs then regained the upper hand after West’s steal and spinning three-point play to go up 61-58.
But the Warriors wouldn’t go away easily, however, as Dorell Wright also caught fire in the period before West’s buzzer-beating three lifted the Mavs to a 76-70 advantage entering the fourth while continuing a streak of 1,084 straight games with a made triple.
The final 12 minutes began with eight-time All-Star swingman Vince Carter asserting himself and trying to singlehandedly put the Warriors away.
“Just having the opportunity with the ball in my hands to make plays, it was just like old times,” Carter said of his outburst down the stretch after scoring a season-high 23 points on Wednesday night. “Just for me, I feel comfortable in that position and [Carlisle] has been giving me the opportunity to be aggressive. I just have to make the right play out there.”
Terry’s 3-pointer then lifted the Mavs to an 87-75 lead with 8:57 on the clock to close the game out. Fittingly, however, it was Carter that provided the dagger with a three to go up 100-88 inside of 3:00, draining the 1,500th shot from behind the arc in his illustrious career. The star reserve sat a short time later as Carlisle emptied his bench with the game well in hand.
Leading the way off the bench was Carter, who finished with 13 of his team-high 19 points in the fourth on 5-of-9 from the field to go along with nine rebounds.
“I’m just in a rhythm more than anything,” Carter modestly said.
“[Carter] was real aggressive. We were looking to get him involved. He made good decisions, made shots, made a couple good passes. It gives us another attacker out there at the small forward position, so that’s a plus,” Carlisle said with high praise for the newcomer.
Wright added 17 points and seven rebounds in a reserve role as well, while West and Nowitzki added 16 points apiece and Shawn Marion pitched in 14 in the first unit.
Thompson led five Warriors in double figures with 26 points on 11-of-22 shooting. But the Mavericks finished the game outshooting the Warriors, 46.9 percent to 44.6 percent, in addition to a 52-35 rebounding advantage.
Dallas also outscored Golden State in the painted area, 48-32, to go along with a 16-2 margin in second-chance points.
The Mavericks will now journey back out on the road, touching down in Chicago for a battle against the NBA’s best team record-wise, the Bulls. The game will air on Saturday night locally on Fox Sports Southwest and nationally on ESPN at 7 p.m. CT.
Meanwhile, point guard Jason Kidd will travel with the team but will sit out the game due to a prescheduled rest.
“It’s going to be a playoff-caliber game in terms of its physicality,” Carlisle said when looking forward to the matchup. “That’s a guarantee, because when you lace them up against those guys, that’s the kind of game it’s going to be. It’ll be good, it’ll be good for us.”
Note: Dates and times for the first two home playoff games have not been announced but will be posted on mavs.com by April 27th.