What happened Sunday night at American Airlines Center classifies as a painful loss for the Dallas Mavericks.
Joe Johnson proved to be unstoppable in the clutch and the Brooklyn Nets played aggressively down the stretch, rallying from a 14-point deficit to defeat the Mavs 107-104 in overtime. But that was only the beginning of the unfortunate news for the Mavs.
Less than one minute into the game, Dallas lost starting point guard Jose Calderon with what the team described as a facial injury after he was inadvertently hit in the mouth by Nets center Mason Plumlee. That injury threw the Mavs’ rotation into a tizzy, but the Mavs know it was no excuse for the loss Sunday.
“We had a chance to put a stamp on these guys earlier in the game and we didn’t do it,” said Shawn Marion, who had 12 points. “We let them get back in the game slowly but surely.
“We stopped doing what we do and started playing their style of play.”
When it appeared as though the Mavs were going to put this one away in regulation, they started playing too much matador defense and missing too many free throws.
Thus, coupled with a 127-120 win by Phoenix over Minnesota on Sunday, the eighth-place Mavs (42-29) are just half a game ahead of the ninth-place Suns (41-29) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
With some heavy hitters on their schedule this week, the Mavs are in danger of missing the playoffs for a second straight season. But guard Monta Ellis said: “This is not the time to panic. We have a lot of games ahead.”
A pair of free throws by Samuel Dalembert put the Mavs up 91-87 with 44.7 seconds left in regulation. But less than three seconds later, Paul Pierce was fouled by Marion on a drive to the basket.
Pierce buried the free throws and after Dirk Nowitzki air-balled a jumper, Johnson blew by the Mavs’ defense for a layup off a set play to tie the game at 91 with 9.9 seconds remaining.
Ellis then missed a long 3-pointer at the buzzer. But the Mavs know their lazy defense was the cause of the game going into overtime.
“We’ve just got to guard, just man up,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “You’ve got to stay in front.
“We are a switching defense team, and we just got beat.”
After Nowitzki hit a jumper to begin overtime, the Nets assumed control with a 12-2 run to go up 103-95 with 1:26 left.
Fueled by a pair of 3-pointers from Ellis, the Mavs managed to get in position to send the game into a second overtime. However, a running 28-footer by Ellis glanced off the side of the rim as time expired.
For the Mavs, they wasted a night when Dalembert scored 12 points and finished with season highs in rebounds (15) and blocked shots (seven). But they also must be concerned with Nowitzki, who played 38 minutes and was only 2 of 12 from the field.
“He had an off night, and that happens,” Carlisle said. “When it happens, the ball has got to move and other guys have to get involved — which we did.
“We were in great position, and then twice we couldn’t get stops in regulation.”
Replacing the injured Calderon, Devin Harris scored nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range, and the Mavs jetted to a 29-15 lead after the first period. But after that early flurry, Harris scored just two points the rest of the night on 1-of-10 shooting while playing a season-high 40 minutes.
“I’m concerned about all of our guys, but we’re getting a lot of rest and I’m watching their minutes closely,” Carlisle said. “The Calderon thing tonight was tough because it threw a monkey wrench into our guard rotation now, because Harris has to play a lot more minutes.”
The Mavs are 2-2 on this eight-game homestand, which resumes Tuesday against Oklahoma City.
“We still have four more home games,” said Ellis, who scored 26 points. “But we are going to take it one game at a time and keep pushing to our goal of where we need to go.”