Because Golden State simply doesn’t lose games at home, probably not many people thought the Dallas Mavericks had an honest shot at beating the Warriors on Friday night.
Especially since the Mavs only played nine of the 10 players they dressed.
But with the Warriors on a serious mission to successfully defend their world title, they surprisingly had to withstand a serious performance from the Mavs before prevailing 128-120 at Oracle Arena.
It was the 52nd straight home win for the Warriors, who improved to 65-7 overall. However, this was no day at beach as the Mavs were within 120-116 of Golden State with just 1:21 remaining in the game.
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“We played hard and we competed,” said Wesley Matthews, who led the Mavs with 26 points. “I think we took a step in the right direction as far as getting better as a whole.
“Guys had to step up and guys did step up, but obviously we can’t give up (128) points. I know we’ve got to continue that fight and that push to make sure we salvage this trip with two games left on it.”
The loss left the Mavs and Utah Jazz with identical 35-37 records for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. Those two are tied 1-1 in the season series and will meet in Utah in the next-to-last game of the season.
But if the season ended today, the Mavs would advance to the postseason because their conference record of 22-22 is better than Utah’s 19-23 conference record.
As far as the game against the Warriors is concerned, the Mavs were seriously short-handed, including the absence of three starters.
Power forward Dirk Nowitzki sat out so he could get some rest in preparation for the upcoming crucial back-to-back games Sunday in Sacramento and Monday in Denver. Point guard Deron Williams is dealing with a left abdominal strain, and small forward Chandler Parsons underwent season-ending arthroscopic surgery on Friday to address an injury to his right medial meniscus.
Also, reserve guard Devin Harris had to rush home after his wife gave birth to a girl Friday morning. And reserve forward Jeremy Evans underwent season-ending right shoulder surgery on March 17.
Nowitzki also missed the Mavs’ Jan. 27 game in Oakland when he rested on the second end of a back-to-back after the Mavs beat the Lakers in Los Angeles 92-90 on Jan. 26. Thus, Warriors fans didn’t get to see him play in Oakland this season.
“Oracle is always a fun arena to play,” Nowitzki said. “Not only since there were really, really good — this has been an amazing atmosphere to play in my entire career
“A great place in sports, great place to play, so not to play here once this season is obviously disappointing. And you always want to compete against the best — you measure yourself with the best and that’s what they are.’’
Despite playing with a short hand, the Mavs appeared undaunted Friday and only trailed by those aforementioned four points, which made for a lot of anxious moments for Warriors fans who are not accustomed to seeing their team lose in this building.
With the Mavs pushing Golden State to the brink, Klay Thompson (40 points) buried a 3-pointer, J.J. Barea missed from 3, and Harrison Barnes added another 3-pointer and the Warriors quickly burst ahead 126-116 with just 40.9 seconds remaining.
“I think we played a good game overall,” said Charlie Villanueva, who broke out of his slump by scoring 16 points. “We know that they’re a team that makes runs and we hung in the game ... and we fell short.
“But we can’t hang our heads. We competed tonight.”
The Mavs will need to compete similar to this — at least offensively — during the final two games of this trip against Sacramento and Denver.
“We’re definitely playing with a certain edge, a certain urge, because we’re fighting to stay in the playoffs,’’ said Raymond Felton, who finished with 17 points, five rebounds, five assists and no turnovers while playing a game-high 38 minutes. “We’re definitely being aggressive and collectively as a team we’re playing hard.”
Golden State, who made 21 of 45 shots from behind the 3-point arc, got 13 points from Stephen Curry and led 40-33 after the first quarter. Barea kept the Mavs close by tallying 11 of his 21 points in the opening quarter.
The Warriors then revved things up to a higher gear and motored to a 72-58 lead at intermission. Thompson and Curry each tallied nine points in the second quarter when the Warriors stepped on the gas and got some distance between themselves and the Mavs.
Curry, who collected 33 points, hit the killer 3-pointer from 33 feet with 2.9 seconds left before halftime that got the crowd in a tizzy. Still, the Mavs were able to recover, settle down and make the defending champs execute down the stretch in order to win this game.
“There were some positives for sure,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “But I don’t get excited about eight-point losses in general.
“We are out here to win games.’’
Former Warriors center David Lee gave the Mavs a lift in his return to the city where he played the previous five seasons. Lee helped the Warriors win last year’s NBA title.
For that, the Warriors showed a 90-second video dedicated to Lee prior to the game, and then Curry gave a speech and handed him his championship ring. Lee then went to work by scoring 12 points, grabbing nine rebounds and handing out six assists in 24 minutes.
“I want to give the Warriors a lot of credit — organization — for being so first class in putting on the tribute that they did,’’ Lee said. “That’s a reason why we won a championship last year and that’s because the Warriors are so first class.’’
The Mavs, who converted 18 of 35 shots from 3-point territory, are hoping to one day return to championship status. But first they have to dig deep just to qualify for the playoffs.
And they may wind up being matched up against the Warriors in the first round.
“It’s important to get to the playoffs,’’ Carlisle said. “It’s one of the things that’s important in this league is to make the postseason.
“We’ve got to work to get there, and then once we get there we’ll prepare for whoever it is.”