It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the Dallas Mavericks really enjoy living on the edge — like cliff divers or folks that swim in shark-infested waters.
For the fourth time this season, the Mavs tested their coaching staff’s patience and walked another tight rope. But for the third time, they managed to get away with it.
The Mavs nearly blew a 31-point lead Monday night before holding on and outlasting the Boston Celtics 118-113 at the American Airlines Center.
The Mavs won their third straight and improved to 3-1 going into back-to-back games Thursday and Friday in Portland and Utah, respectively. But if the Mavs have another third quarter like they’ve had during the first four games, they know their winning streak will be in serious jeopardy.
“This has happened to us — this is the fourth consecutive game,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve got to adjust, I’ve got to adjust.
“I might have to substitute a little differently — we’ll see. We’ll circle the wagons and work on getting it figured out.”
Dallas was running all over the court Monday, dropping in 3s and turning the game into a rout. The Mavs led 63-32 with 4:07 left before halftime after Jameer Nelson drained a 3-pointer.
The lead was still somewhat safe at the half, with Dallas ahead 67-41.
Then came the dreaded third quarter, the quarter that has seen the Mavs get popped in the gut four times now.
Boston opened with nine straight points and wound up outscoring Dallas 38-24 in the third period.
But it got worse.
With the Celtics playing a physical style, they got within 114-113 with 39.5 seconds left after Avery Bradley made two of three free throws after he was fouled by Monta Ellis while attempting a potentially game-tying 3-pointer.
Ellis (14 points, six assists) made amends by driving through traffic for a layup to give Dallas a three-point lead with 27.8 seconds left. Jeff Green (35 points, seven rebounds) then missed a 3-pointer for Boston, and Ellis drilled a pair of free throws with 8.5 seconds remaining to close out another tense game for the Mavs.
While the Mavs are appreciative they’ve been able to bag some wins, it’s the manner in which they’re doing it — particularly their third-quarter letdowns — that’s irking them.
“I think we’re coming out and we’re having such great first quarters and first halves, I think it’s kind of natural to have a little bit of a letdown and take a breathe,” said Tyson Chandler, who finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. “We’ll get it fixed, we’ll get it together.
“Everybody knows in that locker room that it’s something that we’ve got to get together.”
Chandler Parsons led the Mavs with 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting, Dirk Nowitzki had 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting and Devin Harris collected 12 points and six assists. But the Mavs, despite building that huge lead, couldn’t shake the Celtics until the waning seconds.
“They’re a tough team, scrappy,” Chandler said. “You get up and you know they’re going to continue to fight back.”
It’s a fight the Mavs have won three out of four times. But they know they can’t keep expecting the outcome to favor them if don’t find a way to flip the switch in the third quarter.
“Portland is one of the best teams in the West — that’s one of the hardest places to play,” Carlisle said. “We’re not going to be able to have these kinds of slippages going out there and playing in their place
“We’ve got to continue to focus on defense. We’re not the fastest or most rugged or quickest or most dynamic team, but we are smart and we’ve got to put ourselves in the right place collectively to succeed on defense.”