Precise execution for the Dallas Mavericks down the stretch Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena had been poor at best.
But with time running out and with yet one more opportunity to at least pull even with the LeBron James-less Cleveland Cavaliers, the Mavs tried to put the ball in the hands of their most trusted veteran.
Kyrie magically appeared with the ball. That’s really all that happened.
Dirk Nowitzki, on Kyrie Irving’s pivotal interception on the sideline in the final seconds as Dallas was down two points
A lob pass from Devin Harris intended for Dirk Nowitzki on the left wing, however, was intercepted by Kyrie Irving with 2.9 seconds remaining, and the Cavs hung on to defeat the frustrated Mavs 99-98.
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The loss dropped the Mavs to 34-34 overall, and their slim lead over the Utah Jazz (32-35) for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot was chopped to a mere 1 1/2 games.
With so much at stake during this critical stage of the season, the Mavs know they had no business losing to a Cavs team that played without James, who is being rested as Cleveland plays three games in four days.
Still, after falling down by 20 on two occasions, the Mavs battled back and were in position twice in the final 35.8 seconds to steal a win.
But J.J. Barea inexplicably threw the ball away on a crosscourt pass. And Harris’ pass that was intended for Nowitzki somehow ended up in Irving’s hands, although replays clearly showed Irving held Nowitzki on the play.
When asked what happened on the frantic, game-changing play, Nowitzki said: “I don’t know. Kyrie magically appeared with the ball. That’s really all that happened.”
Asked if Irving held him on the play, Nowitzki said: “I have no idea. I didn’t see the play.
“I don’t want to get a fine over it, obviously, so it is what it is. We had enough chances.”
Harris said he didn’t get a good look at where Irving “magically appeared” to come up with the ball.
“I just saw him behind [Nowitzki] and I put it up there and the next thing I knew [Irving] had it in his hands,” Harris said. “I didn’t really get a good angle on it.
“It’s a tough way to lose a game, though.”
Following the steal, Irving buried a pair of free throws with 2.3 seconds left, which made a 3-pointer Deron Williams banked in at the buzzer not so critical.
Just a horrible first quarter and the third quarter. We basically spotted them 40 points.
Dirk Nowitzki, on the Mavs falling behind
“We gave it a shot,” said Williams, who struggled and finished with just four points on 1-of-5 shooting. “I felt like Dirk got fouled on that last play, but that’s part of the game.”
For the second straight game, the Mavs went with the small lineup that earned them a win Monday in Charlotte to open this two-game road trip. But this time, the small lineup —which featured center Zaza Pachulia on the bench and guard Raymond Felton in the starting lineup — was a failure.
With Irving (33 points) shaking free, the Cavs darted out to a seven-point lead late in the first quarter and increased it to as much as 50-30 midway through the second period.
The Mavs closed to within 52-49 of the Cavs late in the second quarter, thanks to nine points from Nowitzki. But Cleveland, which led 57-51 at the half, was off to the races again and built their lead back to 20 (74-54) with 7:45 left in the third period after a 3-pointer by Kevin Love.
“Just a horrible first quarter and the third quarter,” said Nowitzki, who finished with 20 points. “We basically spotted them 40 points and had to keep fighting back, so we have to look at it and get better.”
4-11 The Mavericks’ record this season in games decided by three points or fewer
Pachulia made his first appearance with 1:28 remaining in the third quarter and the Mavs down 82-68. With the cagey veteran battling inside and finishing with eight points and four rebounds in 13 minutes, the Mavs fought their way back into the fray.
What is getting old for the Mavs is their inability to close games. They’re now 4-11 in games decided by three points or fewer.
Despite the unfortunate call that didn’t go the Mavs’ way, Nowitzki and Harris each misfired on 3-point attempts with under three minutes left while Dallas was trailing 95-93.
“We had a couple of shots that we did rush, but I’m proud of the way we hung in and fought and got that close,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Then the play involving Harris and Dirk was unlucky.
“It’s just unlucky.”
Mavericks vs. Warriors
7:30 p.m. Friday, FSSW