If an alien had dropped inside American Airlines Center on Friday night, it probably would have thought the Dallas Mavericks were in a dogfight for a playoff spot.
The Mavs were diving for loose balls, grabbing key rebounds, making crucial defensive stops, and scoring critical points en route to a 108-105 overtime victory over the powerful Denver Nuggets.
It was the type of outcome Mavs fans have been starving for all season from their favorite team.
However, it is too late because the Mavs have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Still, the Mavs (39-40) gave the sellout crowd of 20,368 something to cheer about as they erased an 11-point deficit while defeating one of the NBA’s best teams.
“Regardless of us not making the playoffs, that doesn’t mean we can’t lay it all out there and fight until the end,” forward Vince Carter said. “That’s what we want for our fans and this organization, and each individual to know that we’re going to lay it all out there for each other and for the good of the team.
“It starts with the old guys. Look at the old guys out there playing big minutes and still battling and letting it all hang out.”
No one would have blamed the Mavs for just mailing in this game. Especially because the only thing they’re playing for is to have a winning record, now that their streak of advancing to the playoffs has ended.
But O.J. Mayo showed his mettle when he fought back following a crucial late turnover in regulation to hit a key 3-pointer that put the Mavs up for good.
A short time later, Carter’s long basket gave the Mavs a 106-103 lead. Darren Collison then popped in a pair of free throws to pad the lead to 108-105 with 1.9 seconds left, and Andre Iguodala air-balled a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Carter was a pest all night and kept coming up with big basket after big basket. Before the game, owner Mark Cuban even said he felt worse for Carter about the Mavs not making the playoffs than he did for Dirk Nowitzki.
“Vince is a warrior,” Cuban said. “All these things I heard about him in the past, about being soft, not playing hard.
“That dude comes out to deliver every night. Even when a game got out of hand, he was busting people for not doing what they’re supposed to do. He was cheerleading on the bench.”
Carter, who was 9-of-19 from the field, appreciates the love he received from Cuban.
“It kind of bothered me when my love for the game was questioned,” said Carter, who finished with 22 points and a season-high 12 rebounds. “I’m glad that he believes in me and believed in my ability to bring me in two years ago.
“I told him I was going to do whatever I have to do for this team. I don’t let my age determine how I approach the game and my love for it, and this is one little example.”
Mayo also displayed some resiliency by recovering from the turnover that could have cost the Mavs the game.
“Mistakes are going to happen,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But who can make a mistake and then bounce right back and hit two or three shots in overtime, and get a key deflection and just stay in it.
“That’s one of the things he’s learned. He’s learned about how to stick with it and how to get going, and I was real happy for him because it was a rough 10 seconds there at the end.”