DALLAS – Rick Carlisle did his best to do damage control after he got into a heated exchange with point guard Rajon Rondo early in the third quarter of Tuesday’s 99-92 win over the Toronto Raptors at American Airlines Center.
As the Raptors were in control of the game, Carlisle wanted Rondo to call a timeout. But as the timeout never came and Rondo kept dribbling the ball up the floor, Carlisle rushed onto the court, called timeout with 8:10 remaining in the third quarter and then shouted at Rondo as the nine-year veteran was headed to the bench.
Rondo, an edge player not known to back down to anyone, then cursed at Carlisle, and Carlisle cursed right back at him. When the dust settled, Devin Harris replaced Rondo, and Rondo never played again.
In trying to explain what happened between him and Rondo to make their tempers flare, Carlisle said: "It’s an emotional game and we had a difference of opinion, so there was an exchange and then in my mind it was over.’’
Asked if the difference of opinion was in regards to play-calling, Carlisle said: "I’m not going to get into that. But in my mind once it was over, it was over.’’
Rondo, though, didn’t play another second in what Carlisle characterized as a coach’s decision. So why did Carlisle pull the plug on his starting point guard, the player the Mavs moved a lot of pieces to acquire in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics on Dec. 18?
"It was made because I’m the coach and that was the decision that I made at the time,’’ Carlisle said. "How many other ways you want me to answer the same question?’’
Rondo left the locker room and failed to address the media and tell his side of the story. But he did have a long chat in the locker room with Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, who coached Rondo at Kentucky, before side-stepping the media.
The dust-up between Carlisle and Rondo overshadowed a brilliant comeback by the Mavs, who trailed 51-38 late in the second quarter before rallying to complete this home stand with a 3-0 record.
Forward Dirk Nowitzki said he’s seen a few dust-ups during his 17-year career, and wasn’t thrilled that he witnessed another one Tuesday night.
"Both guys are very competitive, want to win, so that was unfortunate,’’ Nowitzki said. "But like I said that wasn’t the first time I’ve seen anything like that happen and it won’t be the last.’’
J.J. Barea (13 points, three assists) and Harris (14 points, five assists) got the bulk of the point guard minutes after Rondo was benched. As Carlisle shifted the conversation away from questions about Rondo, he did say: "I thought it worked out well. The other guys stepped up and we were able to win the game.
"I thought Barea was great – shot-making, play-making, all kinds of really good stuff.’’
When asked if Rondo is still the Mavs’ starting point guard and if he’ll be in the starting lineup when Dallas (39-20) play at Atlanta at 6:30 Wednesday night, Carlisle said: "That’s what we brought him here for.’’
The Raptors jumped out to a 29-25 lead after the first quarter and kept applying pressure with their solid shooting from 3-point range. Toronto still led 59-49 at the half, but the Mavs crawled within 77-74 after the third period.
Monta Ellis (20 points), Nowitzki (18 points, nine rebounds) and Richard Jefferson (11 points) helped fuel the comeback. Even when center Tyson Chandler injured his hip, the Mavs never stopped applying a lot of pressure on the Raptors (37-20).
"They were playing their fourth (game) in five nights,’’ Carlisle said. "So they’re a little worn down and we just needed to keep the pressure on them and we had to keep attacking, which we did.’’
All that attacking by the Mavs came with their star point guard chained to the bench.
"Stuff like that is never good,’’ Nowitzki said of the Carlisle-Rondo dust-up. "It’s unfortunate, but like I say it does happens, and its how the team responds, it’s how the team moves forward, how both sides moves forward and make the best out of it.’’