Despite his struggles throughout the night, Dirk Nowitzki came to the rescue late to lift the Mavericks to a road win over Avery Johnson and the Nets. Earl K. Sneed reports from the Prudential Center.
NEWARK, N.J. — Just one word came to Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle’s mind when asked how his team would need to play in order to knock off the New Jersey Nets Saturday Night at the Prudential Center: Gnarly.
Carlisle told reporters in his pre-game address that the Mavericks (28-15) would need the right amount of “gnarliness” in order to rebound from a tough 82-77 defeat in Chicago two nights earlier. The coach added that it would also take a well-rounded performance — one similar to Wednesday night’s 109-100 win over the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers — if the Mavs would indeed hand former Dallas coach Avery Johnson and the Nets (12-32) a second loss in the season series, after downing the New Jersey squad with a 102-89 win back at the American Airlines Center on Dec. 9.
“We’ve got to be a true team,” Carlisle said before the game. “We’ve got to be tough, persistent and gnarly on defense … Gnarly means aggressive, gritty and it just means you’re getting dirty and you’re being resourceful. That’s really what it’s about.”
Perhaps the coach foresaw Saturday night’s ending coming ahead of time, because his pre-game thoughts would ring especially true after 48 minutes of play.
At the end of a seesaw affair that saved the best for last, it was the Dallas defense that would have the last word. And despite a lackluster shooting night for leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki, the 7-footer’s game-winning jumper with 6.0 seconds left would still be what catapulted the Mavericks to an 87-86 win, as the team moved to 2-1 since ending a six-game losing streak.
“It was a gnarly game, and it was the kind of game that I completely expected. Very competitive,” Carlisle said after the win. “It came down to one shot, and fortunately we had the right guy taking the shot. We were able to get one stop, so we get out of here alive … It was just a fight to get it done.”
The Mavericks looked to display all that their coach detailed from the opening tip, as Carlisle rolled out a starting lineup of point guard Jason Kidd, swingmen DeShawn Stevenson and Sasha Pavlovic, Nowitzki and center Tyson Chandler for the third straight game. And behind an aggressive Chandler, the Mavericks got off to a quick start.
But despite Chandler’s 10 first-quarter points on a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor, the Mavericks faced a 26-22 deficit after one.
“We struggled early, we were a little bit out of rhythm,” Carlisle said.
Sixth man Jason Terry gave the Mavericks an immediate lift in the second quarter. But the Nets continued to control matters behind former Mav Devin Harris. Still, after falling behind by as much as nine, the Mavericks finished the first half on an 11-0 run, taking a 48-45 edge into the halftime intermission.
True to their head coach’s prediction, it was the Dallas defense that sparked the run, holding the Nets scoreless for the final 2:52 of the first half. And although the Mavs shot just 39 percent compared to the Nets’ 54 percent, Nowitzki’s 15 points and Chandler’s 14 was enough to claim the advantage at the midway point.
Although he led all scorers at the break, Nowitzki shot just 4-of-13 through two quarters in his fifth game since returning from a nine-game absence with a sprained right knee.
“I couldn’t buy one, I don’t know what’s going on. I’m running in quicksand out there,” Nowitzki joked. “When I make a move I feel slow and a little lethargic right now, not that before I got hurt I was a speedster or anything like that. But at least I felt I could make a move and blow by somebody. Right now, it just almost feels like my mind is telling my body to move and my body takes a second or two to make the move.”
Even with Nowitzki struggling, the Mavericks appeared to come out of the locker room strong, upping their lead to seven. But the Nets reeled off an 8-0 spurt the opposite way to regain the upper hand. The two teams then battled to a 68-all stalemate heading into the fourth period.
“They fought back,” Carlisle said, “and we’ve got to do a better job of holding leads and building on them. I’m not gonna give in to the old, ‘It’s the NBA, teams make runs.’ I think it’s an area where we can do better.”
Just like the start of the third period, the Mavericks opened up the fourth strong while scoring the first seven points to swing the margin in their favor. With backup point guard J.J. Barea coming alive after going scoreless through three quarters, the Mavericks looked to hold on to that lead after failing to do so the quarter before.
“Today, we had the mentality that we weren’t gonna lose,” Barea said after totaling all eight of his points in the final period.
But while the Mavericks were able to remain in front, the Nets still continued to keep things interesting by sticking to within an arm’s reach. New Jersey eventually battled all the way back, with swingman Sasha Vujacic giving the Nets the lead with a three. It was short-lived, however, as Barea answered with a long deuce the next time down the floor.
“I love the way Barea came through for us down the stretch,” Carlisle said.
“J.J., I thought, made some big shots for us in the fourth quarter,” Nowitzki added.
Still, with a pair of free throws from Nets center Brook Lopez, New Jersey once again seized the edge within the final two minutes. And down two, Chandler secured a monster offensive rebound off a Nowitzki miss and was quickly fouled. But with 35.2 seconds on the clock, the 7-foot-1 big man hit just 1-of-2 at the line.
Back on the other side of the floor, the Mavericks forced a defensive stop after Harris overshot the rim. And Stevenson grabbed the board and called timeout with his team down one and 20.1 ticks still remaining.
Coming out of the timeout, the ball worked its way to Nowitzki, who had struggled to find the bottom of the net for most of the night, as he worked his way into the lane against Stephen Graham.
“When it comes down to it, there’s really only one place to go in that situation. I know he wasn’t shooting the ball well, but I felt like he’d get a matchup where he’d get a clean look,” Carlisle said of going to Nowitzki despite his offensive struggles.
After a series of moves, Nowitzki squared up a jumper and the ball bounced its way around the rim and in with 6.0 seconds left for the Nets to answer.
“It was probably one of the best looks I had all night — in the paint, 5- or 6-footer. The up-and-under is usually my shot, and even that one almost rolled out,” Nowitzki said when recalling the play.
The Dallas defense was then up for the final challenge, suffocating the Nets’ shooters in the last seconds and forcing Jordan Farmar into a jumper that fell well short of the rim at the buzzer.
The game featured 12 ties and 17 lead changes.
“We found a way to win tonight. And in a couple of days no one’s gonna ask how we won it. We found a way and got some good stops down the stretch,” Nowitzki explained.
“This was a must-win,” Terry added. “You can’t lose this one. I don’t care what the score is or how close it was, we had to win it and in the fashion that we did. And that builds your confidence. Winning with a Dirk jumper, that’s old times for us and we remember those times real well. And then a stop with your defense to win it, that’s huge for us.”
Including the game-winner, Nowitzki finished with 23 points to lead the Mavs despite 7-of-24 shooting, adding seven rebounds. Chandler added 19 points and eight rebounds, while Terry pitched in 11 points.
Lopez was the high-point man with a game-high 24 points, while Harris finished with 15 points and 11 assists. Meanwhile, the Nets outshot the Mavericks, 44 percent to 35 percent, in addition to a 40-24 advantage in points in the paint.
With a sub-par shooting performance, the Mavericks scratched and clawed their way to the victory by utilizing a 27-of-29 night at the foul line as well as their 17 points scored off the Nets’ 17 turnovers. At the other end, New Jersey managed just 11 points off the Mavs’ 14 giveaways. Both teams also grabbed 39 rebounds on the night.
Now, the Mavericks hope to use not only Saturday night’s last-second win but also the prior two games as momentum before beginning a four-game homestand Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Mavs escaped the Staples Center with a 99-83 road victory back on Oct. 31 in the first of four regular-season meetings between the two squads.
And after claiming just their fourth win in their last 14 games, the Mavericks admit that they’ll need their faithful fans back behind them as they continue to right the ship.
“We’ve got to fight to get it back on track,” Nowitzki said. “It’s good we have a nice little homestand where our crowd can push us forward again and hopefully we can get some big wins. So, it’s definitely what the doctor ordered — get some home games and get back on track.”
Note: The Mavericks return to Dallas to face Rookie of the Year favorite Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. The Clippers-Mavericks showdown will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest. 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).
Stay connected with Dallas Mavericks inside reporter Earl K. Sneed by clicking "like" on his Facebook page or by following him on Twitter. Got a question for EKS? Send your question, along with your first name, last initial, city and state with the subject line "Ask EKS" to email@example.com, and you could be published on Mavsfastbreak.com, the Mavericks' new official blog site.
Create your own ticket plan with the Mavs Stretch Run Plan! Select from as few as six games or as many as 15, including great matchups against the Lakers, Spurs and many more! The plan also includes an option to purchase playoff tickets. Seats are limited so act fast! Visit mavs.com or call 214.747.MAVS to take advantage of this limited time offer!
Individual game tickets are on sale now. Tickets start as low as $2 and can be purchased at the American Airlines Center box office, on Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287). Get in on the action and be there for all the thrills!
Fans can visit Mavs.com or call 214.747.MAVS for more information and a complete listing of regular-season home games.