A day after an ESPN computer gave the Toronto Raptors the highest odds of any team to win this year’s NBA title, the Dallas Mavericks proved they still can compete against the league’s best team.
Despite some struggles the past three games, the Mavericks walked into one of the most difficult arenas in the NBA on Friday night and defeated one of the league’s best team as they fought, pushed and held on and defeated the Raptors 106-102 before a sellout crowd of 19,800 at Air Canada Centre.
In the opener of this four-game road trip that spans two countries, the Mavericks (12-5) looked shaky in falling behind 10-0 in the opening three minutes.
But the Mavericks gathered themselves, and used a 10-0 scoring streak by Monta Ellis down the stretch to cool off the Raptors, who entered the game on a six-game winning streak.
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“This is an important win for us,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve had some struggles in recent games, and this was hard-fought, so I give our guys a lot of credit.
“I don’t think you can name one guy that got in the game that didn’t do some positive things.”
The Raptors did a lot of positive things in slicing a 15-deficit to 87-83 with 5:09 left. But Ellis took over from there and popped in 10 consecutive points to give the Mavericks some breathing room and a 97-83 lead with 2:22 to go.
However, the pesky Raptors (13-3) wouldn’t go quietly. And with Kyle Lowry scoring 13 consecutive points, suddenly some North Texas palms got a bit sweaty as Toronto crawled within 104-102 with nine seconds left.
Nevertheless, Devin Harris closed the deal with a pair of free throws with 6.8 seconds remaining as the Mavericks beat a Raptors’ team that came in riding high with the NBA’s best home record (9-1) and tied with Memphis at 13-2 for the league’s best record.
None of that seemed to bother the Mavericks, who turned the ball over just eight times while playing some of their most efficient ball against a quality opponent.
“They’re a great team, they kept pushing and they kept coming,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who had 15 points and eight rebounds. “But we made enough plays to pull the game out. This was a fun challenge for us.
“We’ve been struggling at home the last couple of games, so for us to come here and end up battling them and pull it out at the end is a great win for us.”
The victory was especially great after the way the Mavericks started. While missing their first four shots, the Mavs fell behind 10-0 before they could even crack a sweat.
However, Dallas went on a 17-5 run to assume a 17-15 lead.
“At the beginning of game I just had to remind the players it’s going to be a tough one and keep your head down and keep going forward, and I thought we did that,” Carlisle said.
“We didn’t get rattled up. At the beginning of the game when we came out and made their run, we stayed the course and because of it we were able to get the win.”
Ellis led the Mavericks with 30 points, Chandler Parsons notched 16 points and pulled down seven rebounds, Al-Farouq Aminu scored 14 points, and Chandler added his eighth double-double of the season (11 points, 10 rebounds).
After losses to injury-riddled teams from Houston and Indiana coupled with a seven-point victory over a New York team missing the injured Carmelo Anthony, not many gave the Mavericks a chance at defeating the red-hot Raptors.
But the Mavericks, who play in Philadelphia at 6 p.m. tonight, showed some grit and determination when they needed it the most.
“I was trying to do it all and help my teammates as much as I could,” said J.J. Barea, who finished with five points, five rebounds, nine assists and three steals. “That was a great win for us and a good way to start a road trip.”