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To call a timeout or not call a timeout, that was the split-second decision Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle was faced with as Jalen Brunson pulled down a rebound with his team down one and less than 10 seconds to play against the Houston Rockets on Sunday.
Carlisle opted to let the flow of the game play out without any momentary stoppage.
It didn’t work out in his favor.
Chris Paul blocked a Brunson jumper as time expired to preserve an 94-93 Houston victory at the American Airlines Center in front of NFL Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes.
Sure, the loss stings. But the hope for Carlisle is that the trust he showed in his two rookies - Luka Doncic fed Brunson on the baseline - to figure it out on the fly will pay off in confidence down the road.
“This is one of those decisions in the NBA when you have to make the choice of ‘call the timeout and let the other team get all their best defenders in and set their defense,’ or ‘play basketball,’” Carlisle said. “Look, Brunson and Doncic were really good all night long with attacking and making the right pass. I would do the same thing again.”
Doncic finished one assist shy of a triple-double with a team-high 19 points to go along with a career-high 15 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks. Brunson had 18 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.
Reigning MVP James Harden was held to 16 points below his NBA-leading 36.6 points per game average as he wrestled with foul trouble throughout. He had also been nursing a sore right wrist, which he recently had x-rays taken on after he fell on it during Friday’s win against the 76ers. The x-rays came back negative.
Harden picked up his fourth foul with 15.3 seconds left in the first half. He then picked up his fifth foul when he elbowed Doncic on a layup attempt on the first possession of the second half. He returned with three minutes left in the quarter with the Rockets up 73-68 and helped stretch the lead to 81-72 with six quick points.
“That was a big-time win for us,” Harden said. “We have had a lot of games where it was ugly and we lost early in the season. We played well defensively. Offensively, we couldn’t get it going. It feels good to win on the defensive end.”
Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni said Dallas’ ability to trap Harden impacted his outing.
“They were good at it,” he said. “They are long and athletic. I brought James back with three minutes in the third and he played the rest of the way. I should have given him more of a break than that. I think he got a little tired, they were trapping and he got a little tired toward the end. But we had to do what we had to do.”
Eric Gordon led all scorers with 26, including five 3-pointers. Clint Capela added 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Rockets (41-25), who were 16 of 52 from beyond the arc.
The score was knotted at 89 with under 4 minutes to play before the Rockets, winners of eight straight, scored five unanswered points to go up 94-89.
“It was a 7.3-second difference and I decided not to call a timeout,” Carlisle said. “I always feel that in those situations, if you have playmakers you trust, you have a better chance that you’ll get an open look. It didn’t work out. In hindsight I should have called a timeout.
“I trust Luka and Brunson and the other guys in there to make a play.”
Brunson appreciated the trust Carlisle showed in he and Doncic.
“It just shows that coach trusts us, and Luka and obviously we want the ball in Luka’s hands and he made an unselfish play. I just have to knock it down.
“The ball kind of got hit with one second left. I got triple-teamed but I also looked at the clock and was just trying to get it up there and make a great play.”
Doncic exited the game momentarily late in the fourth when he was holding his left knee, but he immediately came back in after a timeout.
“I don’t know if he banged his knee or landed on it funny,” Carlilse said. “The hope is that it’s not serious. He did finish the game. So we’ll see. We’ll know tomorrow.”
Dirk Nowitzki finished with six points in just over seven minutes to move 35 points from passing Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) for sixth-place on the all-time scoring list. Michael Jordan ranks fifth with 32,292 career points. He missed three free throws and was just 1 of 3 from the floor.
Carlisle opted not to play him in the second half.
“Coaches decision. The matchups were pretty difficult,” Carlisle said. “I thought he did well to get some shots. But it was tough, it was tough. That was my decision.”
Maxi Kleber returned to the lineup after missing last two games with left knee effusion and posted a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds to go along with three blocks.
Mavericks stretch-four Dwight Powell fell one point shy of extending his streak of double-digit scoring games to a career-best nine games.
“The compete level was tremendous,” Carlilse said. “You hold these guys to 94 points, you hold Harden to 20 points, you are really busting your butt out there. Really proud of the effort. Right now, with wins so difficult to come by, there’s no moral victory in it.”
Dallas, which has now lost five straight to drop to 27-39, is back at home on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. tip against San Antonio. Houston hosts Charlotte on Monday before a clash with Golden State at the Toyota Center on Wednesday (8:30 p.m.).