The most popular player on the Dallas Mavericks’ team produced the biggest play of the game Friday night at the Pepsi Center.
Raymond Felton, who has struggled mightily with injuries and with receiving playing time this season, scored on a driving layup with just 1.5 seconds left as the Mavs eeked out a wild 144-143 double-overtime triumph over the Denver Nuggets.
With the win in the opener of this three-game road trip, the Mavs (48-31) kept alive their hopes of winning 50 games for the first time since their 2010-11 championship season.
Dallas plays the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday and closes out this road trip Monday in Utah before ending the regular season Wednesday at home against Portland.
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After Charlie Villanueva rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Denver’s Danilo Gallinari with 21.9 seconds left, the Mavs eventually got the ball in Felton’s hands. Stationed on the right wing and starting right at the shot-clock – and with Randy Foye playing defense – Felton blew right past Foye and kissed in a layup high off the glass with just 1.5 ticks left on the clock.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Felton said. “The shot-clock was going down and I was just trying to get to the rack, to the basket, or try to get an open shot – whatever was available.
“I made a move, got past [Foye] and the lane was open.”
When the ball nestled through the basket, the Mavs’ bench exploded with euphoria. And they were especially pleased for Felton, who missed the first 30 games of the season – 26 due to a high right ankle sprain and four because of an NBA suspension after he pleaded guilty to a weapons’ possession.
“He’s been the ultimate pro,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said of Felton. “I haven’t heard him complain one word.
“He’s always coming to work early getting his stuff in before the game, he’s getting a hard workout in. Playing one-on-one at one end, and he stayed ready and when his number is called. He’s been great.”
Felton, who finished with 13 points and five assists, didn’t just shine at the offensive end of the court. After the Nuggets brought the ball in play following Felton’s game-winning basket, he suddenly found himself stuck defending the most active player on Denver’s roster – forward Kenneth Faried.
But when Faried received the inbound pass and turned to shoot a 4-footer over Felton, it was the much shorter Felton who stood his ground and manufactured the defensive play of the game, blocking Faried’s shot.
“He had me in the post, he turned around to shoot a jump hook, I just tried to jump up as high as I could and try to mess with him, so he couldn’t get a good look at it,” Felton said. “It worked in my favor.”
Although the Mavs got the victory, this was by no means a pretty sight. The Mavs led 73-50 late in the second quarter, then decided to take a few plays off and nearly got embarrassed by a Denver squad that’s 29-50 and headed to the draft lottery.
Starting small forward Chandler Parsons missed his third straight game with swelling in his right knee, and starting point guard Rajon Rondo was rested. Deep down, the Mavs know they had no business being stretched to the limits by the Nuggets.
“Sometimes games are what they are, and when they get like this you have to figure out ways to get a few stops, a few rebounds and score more points,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I am a product of the Eastern Conference predominantly, but I have been in the West for seven years.
“Sometimes you have to adjust. We have to do some things better, defensively, but we have time to prepare.”
The game had enough twists and turns to fill a mystery movie.
Faried missed a wide open 10-footer at the end of regulation that sent the game into overtime. Monta Ellis could have won it for the Mavs, but he missed a 3-pointer at the first overtime buzzer, forcing a second overtime.
By the time the second overtime started, the only starter playing for the Mavs was Felton. Carlisle didn’t play the other starters – Tyson Chandler, Richard Jefferson, Ellis and Nowitzki. Ellis and Nowitzki wound up playing 37 minutes each with Chandler and Jefferson going 31 minutes apiece.
“We gave it a good effort, but there’s no real need to run anybody’s minutes up to 50 at this point,” said Nowitzki, who scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds. “The bench did a great job there for us in the second quarter when they got the big lead for us. We believe in them and they came through.”
A scary scene occurred late in the first half when Chandler went flying in for a basket, and as he was airborne, Jusuf Nurkic gave him a hard push in the back and nearly knocked him down. Chandler took a couple of steps toward Nurkic, thought about it, then retreated.
The referees reviewed the play and gave Nurkic a flagrant-1 foul.
Chandler maid the ensuing two free throws, then Monta Ellis buried a jumper and the Mavs burst ahead 73-50.
But the Nuggets kept coming at the Mavs. Most of that pressure came from Gallinari, who scored a career-high 47 points, going 15-of-23 from the field, including 7-of-12 from 3-point range.
“We didn’t come out with the same urgency as we did in the first half,” Chandler said. “The first half we ran out and got great tempo, and we were very lively defensively. In the second half all of that stopped, especially in the third quarter. I think it kind of set the tone for us and we were in a dogfight after that.”
While the 73 first-half points the Mavs scored tied their season-high total for any half, the 69 points the Nuggets scored over the third and fourth quarters disturbed Chandler.
“We’ve got to continue to do what works for us,” Chandler said. “We can’t stop after one half, we can’t stop after one quarter. We’ve got to continue to push the pace. Wings got to continue to run and get out. When we stop doing that, for some reason it seems like we get dead on both ends, and you see what happens.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760