All night long Wednesday, the Dallas Mavericks appeared as though they were climbing a steep hill — while running backwards.
By the end of night, they eventually fell off that hill and dropped a 123-122 decision in overtime to the Minnesota Timberwolves at American Airlines Center.
Kevin Love scored the game-winning basket when he split two defenders and lofted in an 11-footer with 17.1 seconds left. After a time-out, the Mavs got the ball to Dirk Nowitzki, but his 18-footer over the outstretched arms of Love missed its mark as time expired.
The Mavs are now 41-28 and have fallen to the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings.
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Love finished with 35 points as the Mavs had no answer for arguably the game’s best young power forward.
“Kevin Love split us and scored and then it becomes a game of Russian roulette whether you can make the last shot or not,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “But the first quarter is what did us in.”
Dallas fell behind 37-24 after the first quarter and trailed 46-24 early in the second quarter when a smattering of boos could be heard.
Although the Mavs clawed their way into the game and collected a 120-115 lead in overtime, they exerted too much energy against a Minnesota squad that likely will be home when the postseason starts.
“Plays in overtime, you can go through those all you want,” Carlisle said. “But when you’re trying to be a team that can win in the playoffs — not just eke in — playing a first quarter like that on your home court in a game this meaningful is a bad sign for us right now.
“And so we’ve got to turn it around.”
In addition to Love, the Mavs couldn’t contain point guard Ricky Rubio, who finished with a triple-double — 22 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists.
“It’s frustrating especially since this is one we should have gotten,” said Shawn Marion, who collected 16 points and 11 rebounds. “We just had a lull out there at the beginning.
“Coach said it was 24 minutes, but I wouldn’t say it was that long. But whatever, it was still enough time for them to get comfortable and do what they needed to do to come in here and get a win.”
Rubio drilled a pair of free throws with 50.1 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime tied at 113-113. And in playing just their second overtime game of the season — the Mavs lost in overtime at home to Toronto 109-108 on Dec. 20 — Dallas began by controlling the situation.
Nowitzki popped in a jumper and Monta Ellis added a 3-pointer, and Nowitzki later added another jumper to stake the Mavs to a 120-115 lead with 3:03 left. Rubio, however, scored on a drive, and Vince Carter fouled out while Love was attempting a 3-pointer.
Love buried all three free throws to knot the game at 120-all.
“We fouled a 3-point shooter, which is something we’ve done a lot of times this year,” Carlisle said. “It’s something that’s been called a lot more in the league and we’ve tried to discipline ourselves to not do it.
“But in that situation Love is very good at seducing you into jumping, and then he jumps in and makes the ref blow the whistle. He made a smart play ... that was a huge play, too.”
Marion and Nowitzki each misfired on a 3-pointer, sandwiched around a Love free throw. Nowitzki gave the Mavs a 122-121 lead when he buried a jumper with 33.1 seconds to go.
At last, the Mavs needed to make one defensive stop. But they failed to control Love, who converted 11 of 20 baskets and broke the Mavs’ hearts at the end.
Nowitzki was just 11-of-27 from the field and was isolated on Love on the game’s final play.
“Our two best players were involved in the action [on the last play] and Dirk had just scored on the previous play, so Dirk was the first option,” Carlisle said. “If he had been denied he would have come off and set a screen for Monta, and Monta would have attacked.
“The last possession always gets over-analyzed on games like this, but our poor play at the beginning of the game is the reason it came down the way it did. So shame on us.’’
The Mavs used a 24-5 run to get within 55-52 of the Timberwolves late in the second quarter.
After losing the season series to the Timberwolves 3-1, the Mavs are left contemplating how they got themselves into such deep waters in the first place with the Denver Nuggets coming to town on Friday.
“We’ve got another team coming in here Friday that’s been murder for us to play because of the matchups,’’ Carlisle said. “And it’s going to be the same kind of game, so we’ve got to get ourselves right by Friday.’’