SALT LAKE CITY - In a game that, years from now, will long be remembered for its number of big shots made by both teams, the Utah Jazz finally ended Monday's grueling drama by nipping the Dallas Mavericks in triple overtime, 123-121.
“It was a fun game to be a part of,'' said forward Dirk Nowitzki, who finished with 40 points, nine rebounds and six assists. “Both teams left it all out there and competed at a high level.
“Big plays and big shots on both ends of the floor, the crowd was into it, so you couldn't ask for a better game.''
About the only thing better the Mavs could have asked for was to come out victorious. Instead, the loss meant the Mavs ended this four-game road trip with a 2-2 record and also slipped from sixth to seventh place in the Western Conference standings with four games remaining.
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With Monday's 105-102 win over the Houston Rockets, the Denver Nuggets moved into the sixth spot with a 34-27 record. The Phoenix Suns (34-29) are in eighth place and hold the tiebreaker over the ninth-place Houston Rockets (32-29), whom the Mavs host on Wednesday.
This was the first triple-overtime game for the Mavs since they defeated Portland, 144-140, on Dec. 29, 1989. And it came one day after the Mavs dropped a 112-108 overtime game in Los Angeles to the Lakers.
To say the Mavs were spent was an understatement.
Jason Terry played 54 minutes, Nowitzki played 53, Jason Kidd logged 45 minutes, and Vince Carter also chipped in with 45 minutes. But Kidd was so spent that he didn't even play in the third overtime session, leaving coach Rick Carlisle to say: “It got to a sealing point.''
If the Mavs don't qualify for the playoffs, they might look back at this as one of the games that cost them an opportunity to defend their title, particularly because they were just one defensive rebound away from ending the game in regulation play.
Utah was clinging to an 87-83 lead after Gordon Hayward connected on a pair of free throws with 45.1 seconds left in regulation. But the drama in this game started when Vince Carter -- who had 18 points and 12 rebounds -- drilled back-to-back 3-point baskets as the Mavs took an 89-87 lead with 8.5 seconds to go.
After a Jazz timeout, Hayward missed a 10-footer while sliding to his right, but Paul Millsap slipped over and scored on a put-back with 2.2 seconds left to send the game into its first overtime.
“We had our chances,'' Nowitzki said. “If we get that one rebound at the end of regulation, the game is over.''
But because the Mavs couldn't get that one defensive rebound, the game went on and on and on, and on some more. The game lasted three hours and 17 minutes, and ended at 11:30 p.m. CDT.
The Jazz finally broke through in the third overtime behind a 3-pointer from Devin Harris and a bucket from Al Jefferson to go up 120-115 with 1:08 left.
Dallas missed two chances to tie the game again and possibly ship it to a fourth overtime. But with the score 121-118 Utah, Terry and Nowitzki each misfired on 3-pointers with less than 10 seconds left.
Harris then hit a couple of free throws with 4.8 seconds left, making Delonte West's 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining just an afterthought.
In keeping its slim playoff chances alive, the Jazz (32-30) beat the Mavs for the first time in eight tries.
All five Jazz starters played at least 45 minutes, led by Jefferson (54 minutes), Hayward (54), Millsap (53), Harris (53) and DeMarre Carroll (45).
The Jazz hammered the Mavs on the boards, 53-41, with Jefferson tying his career high with 26 rebounds to go with 28 points.
“It's a disappointing loss,'' Carlisle said. “We have to get ready for the next one.''
The game was marred by an incident with 3:40 remaining in the second quarter when West fouled Hayward, then stuck a finger in Hayward's ear. The crowd roared, but none of the three referees saw the incident.
So the refs went to the instant replay, then assessed West with a technical.
“He had some lint in his hair,'' West said. “I was just trying to get it out for him.''
Utah appeared to have the game won in the first overtime, but Nowitzki buried a 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds left to tie it at 105-105 and send it to the second overtime.
Jefferson scored with 29 seconds left to knot the score at 111 apiece and force a third overtime.
Early on, the Mavs trailed 22-18 after the first period and 31-20 early in the second quarter before closing within 43-42 of the Jazz at halftime.
“We weren't playing particularly well, but guys hung in,'' Carlisle said. “We looked dead in the water at the end of regulation, and at the end of the first overtime, and hung in and were able to put ourselves in a position to keep playing, and that was big.
“We had an opportunity at the end of the second overtime with the ball, and we turned it over and that play was on me.''
Terry scored 14 of his 27 points in the three overtime sessions, West scored 16 points, and Kidd chipped in with 10 points and six assists.
The Jazz got 24 points from Hayward, 23 points and seven assists form Harris, 16 points and nine boards from Millsap, and 15 points from Carroll.
And in the end, when they needed it the most, the Jazz were the ones who made the clutch plays that kept the Mavs' playoff hopes on shaky ground.
“There's not enough time to bellyache,'' Carlisle said. “It was a phenomenal game.
“The competition was great, but we came up short.''
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760