The bounce-back game for Dallas was a smashing success Friday when the Mavericks recovered from a 33-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers to spank the Los Angeles Clippers by 30 points.
On Monday, it was all about the Mavs trying to withstand the physical challenge the Oklahoma City Thunder were going to repeatedly throw at them. And boy, was it a rugged challenge that tested the Mavs’ last nerve.
In a wild game that featured 61 fouls, 70 free-throw attempts, five technicals and a pair of Flagrant-1 fouls, the Mavs rallied from a 15-point third-quarter deficit and defeated the Thunder 119-115 before a sellout crowd of 20,231 at American Airlines Center.
For the Mavs, it was an important win because they were able to show that if a team pushes them around that they have the wherewithal to push back, and push back even harder.
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“This is a man’s game when you’re going against athletes like this and guys like [OKC point guard Russell] Westbrook that are doing historic things,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “You get down 15 in the third it’s easy to hang your hang, but we didn’t do it.
“We kept fighting, got the crowd back into it and just chipped away. Getting it tied going into the fourth was huge.”
OKC led 73-58 with 9:10 left in the third period. But Dirk Nowitzki scored 13 of his 22 points in the third quarter, and Chandler Parsons added 10 of his 31 points in the third period and the Mavs were able to negotiate a confidence-boosting 92-92 tie headed into the final stanza.
Meanwhile, point guard Rajon Rondo played a sparkling floor game, finishing with 11 points and 13 assists in his first double-double of points and assists since his second game with the Mavs on Dec. 22.
“I’m a lot more comfortable,” Rondo said. “The ball’s in my hands a little bit more the last couple of games and we’re making plays.
“Guys are making shots, CP [Parsons] has been playing unbelievable, Monta [Ellis] is making shots. We’re playing great as a team and have great chemistry right now.”
The victory enabled the Mavs (42-25) to vault past the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs and move into fifth place in the Western Conference standings. It also improved the Mavs to 2-1 on this five-game homestand which started off with a 127-94 loss to the Cavs last Tuesday.
On Monday, with playoff seedings and reputations on the line, the Mavs refused to back down whenever the Thunder tried to turn the game into a physical showdown.
Amar’e Stoudemire and Nick Collison got tangled and were whistled for double technicals in the first quarter, Chandler drew a technical in the second quarter, and Nowitzki was whistled for a technical after he mouthed off in the third period.
Chandler also was charged with a Flagrant-1 foul for his hard foul on Westbrook late in the second quarter. Things got so chippy that the referees warned both teams to keep the physicality to a minimum.
With the playoffs set to start in a little over a month, Chandler isn’t surprised that chips are planted firmly on players’ shoulders.
“It’s just that time of the year,’’ Chandler said. “Two teams wanting to win, big bodies, and it’s going to be physical.
“And we’re at home, so we’re not backing down here.”
Indeed, backing down was not an option on a night the Mavs lost the rebounding battle 59-37, including 17-8 on the offensive end of the court. It was a matching fire with fire kind of night.
“We were struggling and now we’re trying to get over the hump,” said Rondo, who distributed all seven of the assists the Mavs had in the first quarter. “I think right now, even though it’s only been two games, we’re very confident right now and are feeling good about both ends of the floor.
“But we know in this locker room that it starts on defense. Our defense is creating our offense and that’s how we’re getting wins.”
Parsons, who had his highest scoring game since pouring in a season-high 32 against Detroit on Dec. 17, tossed in 10-of-14 shots while looking magnificent for the third game in a row.
“I’ve just been playing confidently,” said Parsons, who recently missed seven straight games with a left ankle injury. “I think those two or three weeks I missed was very beneficial to me to take a step back and really look at how I can help our offense and our defense.’’
With 1:08 left in the game, Parsons knifed down the lane for a basket to give the Mavs a 112-108 lead. When Westbrook tried to match that bucket with his own drive, he was charged with his fifth foul when he charged into Rondo with 59.9 seconds left in the game.
Less than a second later, an overly aggressive Westbrook fouled out when he attempted to steal the inbounds pass intended for Parsons. With Westbrook’s night over after he collected 24 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists, the Mavs kept applying pressure and sent OKC back across the Red River nursing a 37-30 record and still battling New Orleans for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
“There were a lot of good players on the court and both teams were making a lot of good plays,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said. “But unfortunately, the end of the third quarter gave [the Mavs] the momentum.”
Carlisle credits Rondo for keeping his players focused and concentrating on what was most important. And for helping them stay calm enough to have the necessary energy to pull out a much-needed victory.
“They’ve got a lot of guys that are physical and there’s a lot of physical instigation going on the inside and our guys were getting a little distracted,” Carlisle said. “[Rondo] did a great job of keeping our eye on the ball.
“Guys on our team listen to a guy like that because he’s been through the wars and he’s been a starting player on a championship team. He did a tremendous job tonight.”
Carlisle also praised center Tyson Chandler, who withstood the mauling and physical challenge from the OKC big men and finished with five points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
“That’s a man’s man right there,” Carlisle said of Chandler. “He took a charge on [Mitch] McGary, who’s a muscle-bound 300-pound guy.
“You’ve got to have some guts to stand in front of a guy like that.”
Not only that, it was Chandler who stepped to the line and popped in a pair of free throws with 1:32 to go to give the Mavs a 110-108 lead _ a lead they would never relinquish.
“The final score is a little bit misleading because there were a lot of free throws and stuff like that,” Carlisle said. “But the bottom line is everybody that stepped foot in that game had to step up and play with heart, play with courage and play fearless.
“That’s what this kind of game is.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760