If Dallas Mavericks fans were looking for a nice present Monday in the team’s final home game before Christmas, they instead left American Airlines Center with a frown on their faces and their stockings stuffed with coal.
Atlanta built a 24-point lead late in the third quarter, then withstood a furious rally and held on to upend the Mavs 105-102. The loss snapped the Mavs’ three-game winning streak and dropped their record to 20-9 going into Tuesday’s 8 p.m. game in Phoenix against the Suns.
In winning for the 13th time in the last 14 games, the Hawks improved to 20-7.
For most of Monday’s game the Mavs looked lethargic and were just a couple of steps slower than the speedy Hawks. Their rhythm was off, shots kept missing their mark and the defense was suspect as the Mavs trailed 52-38 at the half.
“We’re just not playing very well, and we’ve got to play better and we will play better,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’re not finished yet here with this alignment, and we have work to do.
“We made some cardinal sins in the first half, we gave up 12 blow-bys — we gave up a lot less in the second half. Our concentration and focus has got to be very narrowly set on the defensive end first, that’s got to be it, and from there we’ll figure out our offense.”
With 4:12 remaining in the third quarter and his team down 20 and establishing no continuity, Carlisle didn’t have any starters on the court. The Hawks then took a 76-52 lead with 2:57 remaining in the third period following a pair of free throws by Kent Bazemore.
But the Mavs reserves injected some new life into the team, and when the starters finally returned with 9:38 left in the game and Dallas behind 82-67, it appeared the Mavs were setting the table for a resounding comeback.
However, why didn’t Carlisle leave the bench guys who got them back in the game on the floor?
“They were exhausted,” he said. “And at that point the guys that started the game deserved a chance to redeem themselves and take it from there.
“I thought we did some good things when the starters went back in, but then we had a few mistakes, a couple of unfortunate misses, some stuff with the officials and we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
With Monta Ellis (18 points) and Rajon Rondo (13 points, 11 assists) leading the charge, the Mavs got within 96-88 after Tyson Chandler (19 rebounds) dunked via a feed from Rondo. However, after a steal by Rondo and with a chance to cut it to six, Ellis lost the ball under the basket with 1:46 left.
Dennis Schroder then drained a jumper for a 10-point Atlanta lead, only to see the Mavs rally again and crawl within 102-97 when Charlie Villanueva (14 points) nailed a 3-pointer with 28.4 ticks left. A steal by Chandler Parsons (four points, six fouls) gave Dallas another opportunity, but Ellis misfired from downtown and the Hawks hit three free throws to keep the Mavs at bay.
In a nutshell, the Mavs ended up scrambling the entire second half after falling in a huge ditch in the first half while getting turned inside-out by the Hawks.
“In order to play from in front in this league, you’ve got to make those plays at the beginning of the game,” Carlisle said. “We just were not doing it enough early.
“When you’ve got to dig out of a big hole in this league against a quality team like Atlanta it just gets hard. You’ve got to pitch a shutout with five minutes to go, and it’s extremely difficult.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760