SHAKING SHACKLES: Despite shaking the shackles of an early 18-point deficit and holding a nine-point lead with just under three minutes to play, the Dallas Mavericks could not find an answer for Aaron Afflalo, who scored 19 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning jumper as the clock expired.
The 10-game winning streak is over, quashed by the Denver Nuggets 121-120.
"They made some unbelievable shots,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "We had some breakdowns, and we didn't get the ball in the hole often enough … I'm more concerned about our total game than the last play. I'm not gonna agonize over the very last possession. There's a lot of other things we can be doing better throughout the course of the entire game. And that's as big a concern to me as what happened at the end."
UBERMISSES: Dirk Nowitzki will see two shots missing their mark dancing on the back of his eyelids as he fights to sleep tonigh.
With 2:50 to play, Dirk would make the first and miss the second chance from the free-throw line to put the Mavs up 119-110. Dallas would not score again until The UberMan once more stood at the line to shoot two as the score sat tied at 119 with 19 seconds left on the clock.
We've seen this story before. Nowitzki delivers two beautiful shots that find nothing but the bottom of the net.
It's not a gamble. It's inevitability.
However … the first shot left his hand and clanked errantly from the front of the rim. He could still give the Mavs the lead, and he would with the next attempt, but it was a precarious one-point advantage in a game dominated by offenses having their way.
For a moment, Jason Kidd played excellent defense on Chauncey Billups (30 points and nine assists) and forced the pass to Afflalo with Shawn Marion defending. … another situation we've seen and embraced so many times before.
Still, as he had the entire fourth quarter, Afflalo made the Mavs pay.
"Afflalo basically was a non-factor for three quarters,'' said Dirk, meaning no disrespect … "Then, all of a sudden, he throws everything in."
Dirk finished with 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting with eight rebounds and six assists. And yet, other than brief flashes, including a powerful post-move in the fourth, few would leave believing they saw him at his best, or his most aggressive.
The wrist may remain an issue, draining some of his assertiveness on offense, leaving us only to hope the healing process is nearing its conclusion.
Losses are never easy, especially if you lose it that way,'' Dirk said. "If you're up eight or nine in the last two minutes, you've just got to find a way to win. So, this is disappointing and it's a tough one to swallow."
HERE'S YOUR HIGHLIGHT PACKAGE: Lowlights, whatever.
CLUTCH CHANCES: This was a game the Mavs had every chance to win on either end of the court. In the final 2:49, the Mavs would give up 10 points while scoring only one.
BENCH SCORING: After getting down by 18 early in the second quarter, it was the Mavs bench that once again lifted the team, led early by the stellar play of JJ Barea, who would score 12 of his 17 points in the second quarter.
Jason Terry was as guilty as anyone for the poor production in the first period, which left the Mavs down 14, but the second quarter saw him begin to redeem himself. By the end of the night he would total a team-high 25 points, including 11 in the fourth, on a total of 9-of-17 attempts.
Next to join the fray of bench production was Shawn Marion, who would total 19 points, five rebounds, three steals and a block. The Matrix was a factor at both ends of the court, and played a significant role in the Mavs erasing their early shortfalls.
Unfortunately, Marion and Barea would not score in the fourth quarter.
The bench as a unit would score 72 points, the most in the NBA this season – this following games of 60 and 58 points in the previous two games.
With their surge, they've allowed Dirk to hand off the scoring load as his wrist heals. While winning, this was a pleasant perk. With the loss, it reminds us of how much this team needs their best player to be their best player.
HEART-AND-SOUL FOOD: Tyson Chandler continued his almost nightly displays of dominance, vastly outplaying Nene for the majority of the contest.
Chandler would total 20 points on 8-of-9 shots, grab 11 rebounds and two steals compared to seven points and seven rebounds for Nene … a player that once – back in B.C. (before Chandler) gave the Mavs fits.
There may be no blocks on the stat sheet for Chandler, but his impact on the court was felt on the defensive end in a game with instances of significance on that side of the ball being hard to find … beyond Chandler and Marion.
Dallas is now 11-3 when Chandler posts a double-double … and 26-2 when they score 100 points.
PRIME-TIME PEJA?: Peja Stojakovic played nine minutes in the first half, and zero in the second. With his shot not quite ready for primetime -- he was 1-of-4 from the field and 0-of-2 from the three-point arc for two points -- and his defense less than desired, this was not a good matchup for a player still finding his legs.
Though Peja did start, JJ Barea and Shawn Marion replaced Peja and the struggling DeShawn Stevenson in the lineup to start the third quarter. Neither Peja nor Stevenson would see the court in the second half.
Again, we must preach patience with Peja. Having missed a couple of months of action, the odds of stepping on the court and instantly being effective are slim. … but that doesn't mean it isn't frustrating to watch him continue to clank his way through the green light.
CENTERS OF ATTENTION: Brendan Haywood once again was the first off the bench to replace Chandler, and once again it was Ian Mahinmi taking over the role in the second half.
Haywood didn't play particularly poorly in his 10 minutes, with four points, one rebound and a block, but Carlisle likely hoped for an injection of energy when going with Mahinmi, who would total four points, one rebound and a steal in his seven minutes.
We're not much into the "showcase theory'' right about now, by the way. We're on record as saying the Mavericks need to hit another double (or a homerun or whatever) in a trade. But they will also end up needing these bodies at center.
BILLUPS' FIRST QUARTER: In the first quarter, Chauncey Billups scored 18 points compared to 19 for the entire Dallas team. His unconsciousness was almost funny as he once tossed up a 3-pointer from five feet beyond the arc – he was unguarded but only because he'd just moved to within the Rocky Mountain Time Zone – but of course he swished it.
ONE DEFENDER SHORT: With Caron Butler unavailable (for the season, right?), the Mavs found themselves without a viable option to turn to in defending Carmelo Anthony outside of Marion.
‘Melo would score 42 points while shooting an efficient 17-of-25 before fouling out with 19 seconds to play as he fell for a Dirk pump-fake and kicked a leg out from the air in an attempt to defend Nowitzki with his foot.
At different times, you could find Barea, Kidd, Marion or Brian Cardinal matched up with Anthony. When looking at the stats, it's clear none of these options were able to have the effect they were seeking.
It's also clear that ‘Melo deserves a little credit for "basketball mental toughness,'' even if he seems rather wishy-washy as a businessman. TNT's Cheryl Miller reported that he told her repeatedly, "It's out of my hands,'' when she asked about his future in Denver.
Ridiculous, of course. It's completely in his hands. He simply signs the largest contract possible, three years and $65 mil, or he doesn't.
Unless he means it's in LaLa's hands.
Ah, but when the ball is in his hands …
"My body feels good. I just feel good, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, I just feel good. My legs, I got my legs back," said ‘Melo who has scored 121 points in the past three games. "As far as me and my
feeling for the game, I feel great right now."
ABOUT CARON: Rehab is going well. It was supposed to take four months. Maybe it will be less. He's talking about being able to come back from knee surgery and contribute again THIS season.
We think this is a wonderful sentiment, and given that it's "Tuff Juice,'' we wouldn't put anything by him. But we also think this is a result of somebody's skillful bedside manner, a carrot on a stick that motivates a person to do everything possible to rehab … even if an unprecedented recover time is fairly impossible.
THE CUSTODIAN: Brian Cardinal did play well late in the game, and made an honorable effort to defend Anthony, as well as deliver the "Custodian" level hustle we've grown accustomed to. Had the Mavs won, Cardinal would have been one to draw praise. In the loss, we still feel the need to at least note it.
Again, though, it's funny how shallow a deep team can suddenly look sometimes. Brian Cardinal covering Carmelo Anthony in some crunch-time moments? Really?
QUOTEBOARD: "We had a good stretch there, 10 in a row. It's time to get 10 more." - Jason Terry
More of what everybody is saying about everything in McKinneyDentist.com Quoteboard!
MAVSELLANEOUS: At 37-16, Dallas and the Lakers are now tied for second in the West. … We would've loved to see Big Wood take even greater advantage of his size edge over Al Harrington … "I've hit some big shots before, but never have I made the game winner at the buzzer," said Afflalo, and that's somehow a double-dagger, isn't it? … Melo: "There's a lot going on, not just for me, but for the whole organization. "When we're winning basketball games, nobody even notices that stuff. When you lose it's magnified 100 times." Not only did Dallas' bench score an NBA-season-high 72, but it outscored Denver's bench 72-12 … Birdman is so noticeable but for all the wrong reasons. He had two points and four rebounds and six fouls. He is averaging 1.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in the last five games. But his neck tats pretty much glow in the dark. … Ah, if only the Mavs had someone who could get to the basket in isolation. Roddy B?
IT'S OVER: The 10-game winning streak is over, and it's hard to shake the feeling that this was a game available for the taking, but there is something to be said for the positives found in how Dallas fought back after falling back by 18 … just as something must be said of how they allowed themselves to dig that hole in the first place.
The Cavs and Kings games perfectly set the table for the first quarter, where the Mavs played sloppy, undisciplined basketball at both ends of the court.
And to be very clear: The Mavs were up 103-90 with 8:44 left in the game. They were up 119-110 with 2:51 remaining. And they were up in the final seconds – with ‘Melo having fouled out.
After suffering those gut-punches, and then Afflalo's final shot, there's nothing to do but move on and look to start another streak against the Rockets Saturday night.
THE FINAL WORD: "If we want to be a championship team, then we've got to close games at the end,'' Tyson said. "This is one game, one game lost at the buzzer, but I'm talking future. We've got bigger goals and aspirations. So, this is one thing we've got to grow from."