By Will Martin
After a week that the Dallas Mavericks would have liked to forget there awaited two gargantuan tasks to handle and overcome. San Antonio, Chicago, and Denver were all single digit defeats in which the team failed to show up one mile high and simply lacked the defense to close out the pass happy abilities of the Spurs and the ever threatening Tim Parker back from injury. That San Antonio 112-106 win on March 2nd was the 8th straight against the Mavericks and not the way Rick Carlisle wanted the month of March to begin.
Portland came to Dallas on March 7th looking to pick up where they left off after a January visit when the Trail Blazers had a lead as high as 39 before coasting to an easy victory over the Mavericks in January. Rick Carlisle was on record to say that Dallas had to come out aggressive on this night to erase a three game losing skid and get back to the playoff mentality of basketball.
Quickly Dallas stormed out to a 22-4 first quarter lead and continued to build the lead to 30 at 40-10. Within the sellout crowd and in the press box there was a collective thought of, ‘This looked too easy. The other shoe must be about to drop.’
“Jose was aggressive and stepping into shots. And to hold a great offensive team like they are to 10 points, that was a fantastic (first) quarter for us. And then they already started chipping away in the second. We talked about we’ve got to come out strong at halftime, but all the talking I guess didn’t work. They played really well. LaMarcus got going there, and he’s tough to guard on the block. We got a little colder, and then we had to grind it out,” Nowitzki explained.
Jose Calderon would net 15 of his 19 points in the first period before finishing up with 19. Dallas would coast into halftime with a 57-38 lead. The third quarter began with LaMarcus Aldridge taking over on offense with effective stops and an 18 point period. That was all that Dallas could muster as a 30 point deficit was shortened to 1 after three periods to 75-74 with the Trail Blazers enjoying a huge rebounding advantage 49-38.
Portland got its first lead of the night with 2:50 left in the 3rd period 69-67 on a Nicolas Batum shot that made the American Airlines Center eerily quiet. Old timers might recall a night on 12/6/02 where Dallas lost a 30 point at Los Angeles with Kobe and Lakers as L.A. prevailed 105-103.
Would history repeat itself on this night? Not exactly!
In a battle of threes and key stops on both ends of the floor Portland enjoyed a 7 point lead with 9:34 left in the 4th as Rick Carlisle called a timeout to convey a thought.
Make shots and make stops! Which was exactly what the Mavericks did as Dirk Nowitzki would make 22 points alongside 17 by Monta Ellis. Devin Harris added an even dozen off the bench as a 6-0 run brought the Mavs back from a 98-92 deficit at 4:26 to knot things up at 98 apiece with Monta Ellis causing an AAC eruption with a steal and a score.
Dallas would proceed to make NINE consecutive stops while Devin Harris made key baskets including a ‘Get The Hell Out Of The Way Play’ to place Dallas in a 103-98 position that was good enough for the win. LeMarcus Aldridge served up 30 points as Wesley Matthews had 26 for Portland as they fell to 42-20.
“You look at the box score and we had one bad quarter, really. It was a horrible third quarter and they got going,” Carlisle shared. “Give them credit. They hung in, they kept fighting and making plays, and it didn’t look good. I think we had nine stops in a row to end the game, which shows what we’re capable of. [Samuel] Dalembert was great and he protected the rim. Devin Harris made a couple of really huge plays, and it’s that close. You’re either feeling great about it or it’s a really tough night, and this is how it’s going to be the next 19 games. I mean, the games are all going to be hard like this.”
That win took the Mavericks to 37-26 and another test if you will with the Indiana Pacers. A team many believe will be your Eastern Conference representatives once the NBA Finals roll around June. Many fans still recall the 103-78 pounding Dallas endured last March 28th when Dallas was one win away from being at .500 and shaving off some beards.
Didn’t happen. At issue March 9th was whether or not Indiana would have their A game to perform with the knowledge that a playoff spot was already clinched for them. Again the Dallas Mavericks would jump out to an early lead before a sellout crowd In Dallas.
For the second time in two games Dallas would hold an opponent to less than 20 first period points (10 Portland, 18 Indiana) while putting up 30. The lead was reduced to 3 at the half 48-45 as the Mavericks were a paltry 6 for 25 shooting in the second quarter.
Period three it was a case of deja vu as Indiana and Dallas exchanged threes and continued to penetrate the paint. Devin Harris came off the bench and added 20 points in 23 minutes of play while Monta added 20 of his 0wn in 38 minutes. Dallas allowed a 17 point lead to disappear while the Pacers-namely Paul George and Lance Stephenson-started to catch fire from behind the arc for 27 and 21 points to erase the deficit to 76-71 after three periods.
Remember what Coach Rick Carlisle was saying about ‘Make a shot, make a block?’ The Mavericks made it happen again in period 4 with key shots and blocks. The Dallas bench outscored Indiana’s 41-4! The Mavericks would then outscore the Pacers 29-23 in the final quarter. Vince Carter added 10 off the bench while Shawn Marion added a dirty dozen to Dirk’s 14.
Note: Dirk Nowitzki is now 13 points away from surpassing John Havlicek for 12th all-time scoring in NBA history. Dallas won this match 103-98 and now embark on a three game swing West then North.
38-26 with 18 games to go and hanging on to the 8 seed. Get ready for a bumpy ride. This Dallas Mavericks team believes in one another and will grind it out to the end.
3/11 @Warriors 9:30 PM
3/12 @Jazz 8:00 PM
3/16 @Thunder 6:00 PM