Earl K. Sneed recaps the action from Houston, where the Mavericks went into overtime for the first time this season and exited with a season series sweep of the Rockets and a half-game lead in the race for the No. 2 seed out West.
HOUSTON — There was little margin for error for the Mavericks heading into Monday night’s matchup with the Houston Rockets.
On the one hand, the Mavericks (56-25) had their eyes fixed on winning their final two regular-season games while hoping the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers slip up just once, securing the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference for Dallas in the process. On the other hand, the Mavs looked to maintain their one-game lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the race for the third position in the standings, hoping that a fourth win over the Rockets would come if the Dallas squad could continue the momentum of back-to-back victories coming into the night before a final test on Wednesday against New Orleans.
“On the one hand, it’s exciting, there’s a possibility to move up if we keep winning and if the Lakers lose,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said heading into the night. “On the other side of it, there’s a lot of different possibilities. I’ve been in this position many times before, and very seldom does it look like you’re locked into something.”
Still, the Mavericks had a chance to move closer to locking themselves into either the No. 2 or No. 3 spot while trying to sweep the season series with the Rockets. And with the Houston squad taking the court short-handed without two starters, Luis Scola (sore left knee) and Kyle Lowry (sore left foot), things appeared to be working out in the Mavs’ favor before the night even began.
But with the Rockets (42-39) playing in front of their fans for the final time this season, the Mavs would have to work for 53 minutes in order to stay on pace for their ascent towards the No. 2 seed, going into overtime for the first time all season long and coming out with a hard-earned 98-91 victory.
“Well, we’re undefeated in overtime,” sixth man Jason Terry jokingly said after playing a major role late.
With the win, the Mavs now hold a half-game lead over the Lakers, who own the tiebreaker, before L.A.’s bout with the NBA-best San Antonio Spurs at the Staples Center on Tuesday night.
The Mavericks would face some adversity early, however, battling a cold-shooting start and sluggish play after falling back 7-2 from the opening tip-off. Spectacular above-the-rim finishes by center Tyson Chandler would get the Mavericks back on track, though, along with versatile forward Shawn Marion’s ability to score in the lane. But although the two feasted at the rim, the Rockets were the ones taking a 23-20 edge into the second period.
The Rockets would again try to pull away early in the second quarter but Terry had other things in mind, scoring with a series of up-and-under moves after penetrating to the rim. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki began to heat up, draining an array of perimeter jumpers.
But a combined 26 points from the Houston backcourt of Goran Dragic and Kevin Martin overshadowed Nowitzki’s 13 first-half points, as Houston took a 47-43 edge into the halftime break, although the Mavericks outshot the Rockets through two quarters, 45 percent to 37.8 percent.
The third quarter would start with another unfortunate situation for Dallas, when second-year guard Rodrigue Beaubois collected his third foul in the early minutes of the period, like Chandler the quarter before. Meanwhile, the Rockets continued to control the pace of the game, negating Marion’s aggressive play to keep his team in the game. And despite Martin’s scoring, after Brad Miller’s late 3-pointer to close the quarter, the Rockets entered the final 12 minutes of play with the Mavs in a 71-67 hole.
The Mavs would try to muster up a comeback early in the fourth quarter, battling through their fair share of turnovers and staying within an arm’s reach after reserve guard J.J. Barea’s 3-pointer — his first made basket of the game — trimmed Dallas’ deficit to just one, 73-72, with 8:51 remaining. But an emphatic put-back dunk by Rockets swingman Courtney Lee reenergized the Houston squad playing its final home game of the season.
Still, the Mavs continued to battle, tying the game at 78-all on backup big man Ian Mahinmi’s and-1, two-handed slam. Then, with Marion concentrating on defending the Rockets’ go-to scorer, Martin looked to attack the rim, getting to the foul line in the process to give Houston an 81-80 edge with 3:05 left for the Mavs to respond.
That’s when Dallas’ veteran core intervened, with Nowitzki scoring for the first time since midway through the third on a pair of free throws to put the Mavs up one before Marion’s and-1 finish padded the lead to 85-81 with 1:34 left. But again the Rockets seemingly had an answer, regaining the lead at 86-85 on Lee’s cutting and-1 finish over Nowitzki with just 10.8 seconds remaining.
The Mavericks didn’t panic, however, going to their two-man game between Terry and Nowitzki, with the sharpshooting sixth man drawing a foul on Rockets big man Chuck Hayes in the act of shooting with just 1.5 seconds left.
With a chance to win the game at the line, Terry calmly tied the game with his first free throw. But his second stroke misfired off the iron with neither team able to secure the loose ball off the glass as time expired, sending the Mavs into overtime for the first time this season, while Terry ran across the court smiling off his frustration after the miss.
“I was happy we didn’t lose and they didn’t have an opportunity to score on us,” Terry said when explaining the sequence. “I’m thankful and fortunate that we got another opportunity in overtime.”
“You know, with one second to go, I’d take that any day, but unfortunately he missed it and we had to go into overtime,” Nowitzki added.
Terry would get a chance to make up for the missed free throw in the extra period, helping the Mavs to take a quick four-point edge. But Lee refused to let the Mavs completely shake his squad, keeping the game close with a timely 3-pointer.
The Dallas defense would then step up, forcing stops while Marion drained a jumper to open up a lead as large as six. That meant that Martin’s late score to trim the Dallas lead to three with just 21.7 ticks left would essentially be too little, too late, as Terry and Nowitzki closed the game out at the free throw line.
“Fortunately we played some of our best minutes of the game in the overtime,” Carlisle said after the win, “which we were due to do, because we struggled during the game.”
Nowitzki led a trio of Mavericks in double figures with 23 points on 8-of-22 shooting, while Marion and Terry both finished with 21 apiece on a combined 19-for-29 from the floor.
“I didn’t really have much going. I thought Chuck did a good job of staying in front of me and then making me take tough shots. Usually I make tough shots, but today I didn’t. But we just kept fighting, kept plugging. JET [Terry] was big there in overtime and I think ‘Trix [Marion] has been phenomenal over the last couples of weeks,” Nowitzki said of his supporting cast.
Before fouling out late, Martin scored a game-high 28 points to lead five Rockets in double figures, while Dragic — 15 points and 10 rebounds — and Hayes — 10 points and 12 boards — both recorded double-doubles.
Despite being outrebounded, 52-49, the Mavericks outshot the Rockets, 45.8 percent to 36.5 percent. The Dallas squad also had to overcome 20 turnovers, which turned into 16 Houston points, scoring just 11 points off the Rockets’ 17 giveaways.
“The game was all about trying to establish some momentum and traction, and all night long untimely turnovers hurt us,” Carlisle explained. “But in the overtime we finally got some shotmaking and some stops, and JET hit a couple of shots, Marion’s post-up was a big play and then we finally got them to miss a few times.”
The Mavs now have just one final test until the playoffs, concluding the regular season against the likely eighth-seeded Hornets on Wednesday night. The Hornets lead the season series 2-1.
“We’re gonna be getting some rest here and then getting back out there. New Orleans, they’ve got our number right now from the last couple of times we played them in New Orleans,” Terry explained. “So, we’re really looking forward to that game.”
Note: The fourth Hornets-Mavericks matchup of the season will tip off at 7 p.m. CT, airing nationally on ESPN and locally on Fox Sports Southwest. Great seats are still available and tickets can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
The Mavs conclude the regular season against the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night in a potential playoff preview. The Mavs lead the season series 2-1. The fourth Hornets-Mavericks matchup of the season will tip off at 7 p.m. CT, airing nationally on ESPN and locally on Fox Sports Southwest. Great seats are still available and tickets can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
Single-game tickets for the first two Mavs home games of the First Round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs are now on sale. Fans that purchase single-game tickets will receive a commemorative 2011 Mavs Playoff ticket*, which will allow the fans to experience augmented reality, a new technology that will bring the ticket to life with animated Mavs players including Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. Game day and commemorative tickets will go live when the 2011 Playoffs begin.
Tickets will be available online at mavs.com, via phone (214-747-6287 or 1-800-4NBA-TIX) and the American Airlines Center® North Box Office**. Ticket prices start at $15 and up and there is an eight ticket limit per game. Tickets are also sold at all Ticketmaster outlets (Fiesta Grocery Stores, Simon Mall in Garland and Shops at Willow Bend).
Fans that purchase single game tickets at the American Airlines Center® North Box Office will receive their commemorative ticket at that time. For those purchasing online or at a Ticketmaster outlet, commemorative tickets will be available to pick up at the American Airlines Center® North Box Office or on Playoff game nights at the Mavs ticket sales table on the main concourse near the North Box Office. Augmented Reality is available only on Android phones. For more information, go to http://www.nba.com/mavericks/ar/ar.html.
Individual game tickets are on sale now. Tickets 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.