DALLAS - A day after their franchise player said he may not be back on the court as soon as he originally thought, the Dallas Mavericks went out without him and beat the NBA's best team.
The New York Knicks came to town with a definite swagger, and rolling along with the league's best record at 8-1. But the inconsistent Mavs didn't blink, staging a furious rally in the third quarter, then holding off the Knicks and winning 114-111 at American Airlines Center on Wednesday.
"It's big for us," said Vince Carter, who came off the bench to pour in a season-high 25 points. “I think we've been up and down and it's just great to see us just gut it out.''
The improbable victory -- with Dirk Nowitzki sitting on the bench again in street clothes -- increased the Mavs' record to 7-6 heading into Saturday's home game against the Los Angles Lakers.
But before they prepared for a Thanksgiving day off, the Mavs had some unfinished business with the Knicks, who beat them 104-94 in New York on Nov. 9.
Shawn Marion missed that game with a sprained left knee, and Carmelo Anthony tagged the Mavs for 31 points. This time, Marion held Anthony to 23 points (7-of-16 shooting) on Wednesday, and New York's best player also committed a game-high seven turnovers.
Even more telling, the Knicks were down 112-111 and called timeout with 24 seconds remaining in the game. The Knicks' play was a designed clear out for Anthony. But he was blanketed by Marion and wound up taking and missing a horrible 15-footer with 4.8 ticks to go.
Dahntay Jones retrieved the rebound for the Mavs and was fouled by Anthony, who fouled out on the play. Jones buried two free throws with 3.3 seconds left and Raymond Felton's wild half-court shot at the buzzer didn't have a chance.
“I wanted him to take a tough one, that's it,'' Marion said of his defense on Anthony in the waning seconds. “That's all you've got to do.
“When you make him take a tough one, you live with whatever the results are. I was tired all night long, too.''
The game turned, ironically, after a young fan got a second chance to make a half-court shot and win a 60-inch TV. The kid made the shot, the fans were delirious, and the Mavs shifted into high gear.
In his first game in Dallas since reneging last summer on a verbal agreement to sign a three-year, $9 million free agent contract with the Mavs, 39-year-old Jason Kidd buried a 3-point field goal to stake the Knicks to a 72-64 lead with 6:07 remaining in the third quarter. Thn the Mavs called timeout, the kid won the TV, and the Mavs promptly went on a 29-10 sprint to claim a 93-82 lead following a 3-pointer by rookie Jae Crowder with 9:14 left in the game.
“What's funny is I told them he's going to make it,'' Carter said of the kid. “They gave him a second shot and I said he's going to make this one and the sponsors are going to be upset because they have to pay that money.''
Added O.J. Mayo: “Tell him to come to some game games and hit some more shots. Yeah, that was a nice shot, though.''
For the Mavs, what's nice is they won a game probably many didn't think they were capable of winning. Especially since they've already blown games this season to Charlotte, Minnesota and Golden State.
The game got too close for comfort for the Mavs, though, as the Knicks went on a 21-10 run to close to 112-111 with 1:15 left following a pair of free throws by Kidd.
But the Mavs, despite a missed shot near the basket by Chris Kaman and an airball by Darren Collison as the shot-clock was expiring, hung tough and fought through their late-game shortcomings to beat the team that's the toast of the NBA at the moment.
“I thought the way we responded to their run, late game, was a tremendous positive sign for us,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. “That we could hold it together, be tough and get two consecutive stops against a team that's going to be - they're in that small handful of teams that's a real contender.''
“I was just happy for our guys. We had to do it the hard way - we had to do it with stops - because we were not able to get the ball in the basket those last couple of possessions until we got to the free throw line.''
Mayo led the Mavs with a game-high 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting, Collison had 19 points and seven assists, Crowder scored 12 and Kaman added 10 points and five boards.
In his return to Dallas, Kidd finished with 17 points, six rebounds, five assists, five steals and no turnovers in 36 minutes. Meanwhile, another former Maverick, Tyson Chandler, muscled his way for 21 points and 13 rebounds.
“Dallas really came out with energy tonight and we fell short,'' said Kidd, who received a nice ovation during the pre-game introductions. “Dallas has the best fans and this is a great sports town.
“A warm welcoming is always appreciated, but I know they were cheering for us to lose.''
The cheers form the Mavs' fans certainly paid off. And in a game not many expected the Mavs to come out on top.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760