DALLAS – For a brief moment Tuesday night at American Airlines Center, it appeared as though the Dallas Mavericks’ rollercoaster season was about to bust another tire.
The visitors from Los Angeles – in this case, the Clippers – were muscling their way around the basket and were within less than a second away from chasing the Mavs off the court with their heads tucked down.
Then came OJ Mayo. And Dirk Nowitzki.
Mayo flipped in a short under-handed left-handed shot with a mere 0.6 seconds left that sent the game into overtime. Nowitzki then showed why he’s one of the greatest players of all-time as he completely took over the overtime session.
Nowitzki tallied the Mavs’ first eight points of overtime and Dallas hung on for a pivotal 109-102 overtime triumph over the Clippers.
The win moved the Mavs (35-36) within one game of the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It also moved them within one victory of shaving off their beards – a task Mayo said they wouldn’t be able to accomplish until the Mavs reached the .500 plateau.
"Everyone will have their clippers in the locker room Thursday, and hopefully you guys can watch us shave it off,’’ said Mayo, who finished with 10 points and three steals. "The barber will be here, we’re going to leave him tickets and give ourselves a chance to shave it off.’’
Getting one step closer to Omar the barber -- Mayo's barber -- getting out his clippers and shaving the Mavs resulted from Dallas coming onto the floor and being just as physical and committed to winning as the Clippers.
On a night when bodies were flying all over the court, when tempers were flaring, and when fans booed ex-Mavs Lamar Odom every time he touched the basketball, the Mavs didn’t flinched whenever the situation got sticky.
That was particularly the case when Chris Paul hit a short jumper to give the Clippers a 97-95 lead with a mere 5.3 seconds remaining in regulation. Following a timeout, the Mavs got the ball to Mayo near the right corner.
The fifth-year guard eventually slithered past Paul and tossed up an under-handed scoop shot that nestled into the basket with just 0.6 seconds to go in regulation and forced overtime.
"That was kind of a play to get me going towards the baseline,’’ Mayo said. "I had Paul on me and I wanted to kind of back him in.
"And I was going to turn to the middle. But I saw Matt Barnes so I kind of reversed pivot and the rim was right there.’’
After that, the rim was right there again and again and again in the overtime session for Nowitzki, who finished with a season-high 33 points to go along with nine rebounds. A pair of free throws by Nowitzki lifted the Mavs ahead, 105-100 with just 22.2 seconds remaining.
Former Mavs forward Caron Butler then missed a three-pointer, Darren Collison popped in a pair of freebies, Blake Griffin scored from 18, and Collison added two more free throws as the Mavs completed one of their more impressive wins of the season.
"The guys are playing for something,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "They are playing to get back on the winning side, and for a playoff spot.
"There is a lot of pride in the locker room and I am proud to be a part of this group. It’s an eclectic roster.’’
That "eclectic roster’’ also got the crowd into the game. Especially when it came to Odom.
Every time Odom touched the ball, the crowd booed lustily again and again. They even booed, again and again, when a large photo of Odom was repeatedly shown on the overhead Jumbotron throughout the game.
Odom, who tallied six points and grabbed six rebounds in his first game in Dallas since he and the Mavs mutually parted ways with last season with nine games remaining, took it all in stride.
"I’ve played in really hostile environments all my life -- its sports,’’ Odom said. "You’ve got to expect that.
"That’s what we love about sports. I’ve played in the championship round before. That’s what happens. That’s what we really love in the game. That’s the way it’s going to be in the playoffs for everybody.’’
If the Mavs keep playing the way they played against the Clips, they just may finish this season with their 12 consecutive appearance in the playoffs. Dallas has won nine of last 12 games and are 3-1 on this six-game home stand which resumes Thursday against the Indiana Pacers.
"We’ve fought an uphill battle all season long,’’ said Nowitzki, who was 12-of-21 from the field while playing 39 minutes. "But honestly I think we’re playing our best basketball of the season right now.
"I’m feeling better and we’ve got to keep this momentum going.’’
Paul tallied 10 of game-high 33 points in the first period which ended with the Clippers holding a 27-22 lead. But the Mavs got eight from Elton Brand and seven more from Vince Carter in the second quarter, and then went to the dressing room with a 50-48 lead at the half.
With Paul running roughshod, the Clips built a 70-61 lead midway through the third period. But the Mavs wouldn’t go quietly into the night and battled back to take a 74-73 lead into the fourth period, then finally had enough energy left to force overtime and seize control at the end.
"That was a huge win for us for so many obvious reasons,’’ Carlisle said. "The way we were able to get it, I thought, was symbolic of what we are going to have to do from here on out.
"We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things and the coaching staff has to mix and match and pull guys in and out a lot of times. But the guys roll with it and that’s why we are able to get some momentum here.’’ Dwain Price, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @dwainprice