Earl K. Sneed recaps the Mavericks’ thrilling win Wednesday night over LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers.
DALLAS — Monday night was over, and Wednesday night was more than just a new day for the Dallas Mavericks. It was also an opportunity to start up another winning streak.
Looking to recapture the success that led to a season-high 12-game win streak, the Mavericks took the court Wednesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers (12-14) also hoping to get back on track after suffering a 103-99 home loss to Milwaukee two nights prior.
And though the Mavericks stumbled after gaining another big lead, as they did two nights before, the team wouldn’t be denied this time around, after Dirk Nowitzki saved his best for the last quarter to will his team to a 103-98 win.
“I like the way we played from start to finish,” Mavericks coach Rick 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.”
In order for Wednesday night to be a success, the Mavericks (20-5) couldn’t get into a slow, mundane game with the Blazers. And to ensure that Dallas’ fast-breaking style controlled the pace of the game, Carlisle said that his team had to avoid Portland’s low-possession play. And according to Carlisle, the key to dictating the pace was to get defensive stops and turn them into transition offense.
But the coach wasn’t happy with what he saw early on, as the Blazers’ six offensive rebounds slowed down the Mavericks’ up-tempo intentions. Still, the Mavericks exited the first quarter with a 17-14 edge, fighting through six turnovers and forcing the Blazers to miss their final 10 shot attempts of the period.
The Dallas defense held the Blazers to just 7-of-25 shooting in the opening quarter, while the Mavericks connected on 8-of-15 at the other end.
“We had some difficult stretches,” Carlisle explained. “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.
“We gave up 25 shots in the first quarter, which is an inordinate number because of all the offensive rebounds and second chances. And that was the really disappointing part of the game – our start. But after that, you just have to keep working.”
Although the physicality picked up in the second period, with Blazers center Joel Przybilla picking up a personal foul and a technical after a hard blow delivered to J.J. Barea, the pace of the game did not. But with swingman Caron Butler catching fire and point guard Jason Kidd draining long-range shots, the Mavericks built up a lead as large as 14 before taking a 51-39 advantage into the locker room at the end of the half.
The 34-point quarter was the Mavericks’ best scoring second stanza of the season.
The Mavericks’ defense held the Blazers to just above 40 percent shooting in the first two quarters, as Portland tied the lowest-scoring output by a Dallas opponent in a first half this season. Meanwhile, the Mavericks connected on 56 percent at their side of the court, led by Butler’s 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
As they had done during their previous win streak, the Mavericks opened up a big lead, this one reaching as much as 17 early in the third quarter. But as was the case Monday night, the Mavericks struggled to protect the double-digit edge, allowing an 11-0 Blazers run to breathe life into the Portland team.
“We had a big lead there again, and just hit a bad stretch again,” Nowitzki said. “We just couldn’t get any stops.”
Wesley Matthews then pulled the Blazers even closer, cutting the Mavericks’ edge to as little as five with outside shooting. Then Butler and the Mavericks responded, however, with the two-time All-Star scoring nine straight Dallas points during a stretch.
“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.
Getting plenty of help from center Tyson Chandler inside, Butler and the Mavericks headed into the final quarter with a 78-68 lead.
Though they tried, the Mavericks couldn’t shake loose of the Blazers in the early minutes of the fourth. And with Nowitzki struggling to score against Portland’s zone defense, the Mavericks needed every bit of sixth man Jason Terry’s scoring. Meanwhile, Matthews and the Blazers were the ones playing at a quicker speed, sprinting to the hole and trimming their deficit to as little as three.
But the Mavericks tried to do what they weren’t able to accomplish two nights earlier: force late-game defensive stops and score timely buckets to keep the Blazers at bay.
Still, the Blazers continued to charge, as big man LaMarcus Aldridge’s monster second half willed his team to within two, 91-89, with 3:27 left. Aldridge, a Seagoville native, twice tied the game as he put his team on his back and dueled with Nowitzki.
“Portland is a good team. They are experienced, you know, and they present major problems because of their size. Aldridge is a great player. Their wing guys are attackers and they kept putting pressure on us,” Carlisle added.
But with the game knotted at 93-all, a Nowitzki score and Butler’s free throws gave the Mavs all the space they would need in the final 1:29 of play. And after Terry blocked a driving Andre Miller’s shot attempt, Nowitzki rained in another jumper with 54.2 ticks remaining to cap an 8-2 run. The 7-footer again found the bottom of the net to put the Mavs ahead, 101-95, with 29.0 seconds left as the Mavs tried to pull away.
“We weren’t about to shoot them out of the zone, so I had to do something else,” Nowitzki explained. “I was able to get to the high post, make a move there and then I got a layup and two free throws in the fourth quarter…It definitely helped me to get going. And then I was able to knock some big shots down. So, just finding a way. Sometimes all a shooter needs is a layup and two free throws.”
“Again, we found ourselves up only two and we had to figure out how to get a basket, because their zone was effective,” 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.”
But there was still work to be done after Nicolas Batum’s 3-pointer with 24.0 seconds still on the clock. A pair of clutch shots by Terry at the foul line in the final seconds was the icing on the cake the team needed, as the Mavs finished off the five-point win in the fifth matchup of a six-game home stand.
“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, you know, 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’ve got to do.”
Butler finished the night with a team-high 23 points to tie his season-high scoring output, while Nowitzki’s 12 fourth-quarter points brought him to 21 on the night. Chandler and Kidd each scored 11 points in the first unit, while Terry posted 13 points and Barea added 10 off the bench. The Dallas bench outscored Portland’s reserves, 35-27.
The Mavs also finished connecting on 20-of-21 at the foul line, making the Blazers pay at the charity stripe.
“We had a good night (at the free-throw line). And in a game like this that’s a tight game, every points gonna count,” Carlisle concluded.
And though Aldridge added 10 rebounds while he posted 20 points in the fourth quarter en route to a season-high 35 points on the night, the Mavericks’ 54 percent shooting proved to be too much for the Blazers, who connected on 49 percent at the other end.
Now the Mavericks go for back-to-back wins when they return to the American Airlines Center floor to conclude the longest home stand of the season, as the team welcomes former Maverick Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns Friday night.
“We got back in the W column. That’s all that matters. Now we’ve got to prepare ourselves for this next one,” former Sun Shawn Marion said.
Note: The Suns-Mavericks matchup Friday night at the American Airlines Center will tip off at 8:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on TXA 21 and nationally on ESPN. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
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