No, the Mavs aren't always "great." But they're always "great" when leading to enter the fourth, right? And they're always "great" in OT, right? And they're always "great" at the AAC when Utah visits, right?
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Tuesday, in the final game before the All-Star Break, the Mavs were forced to swallow a bad-taste 121-119 overtime loss at the hands of a young Utah team that really shouldn't be ready to do this yet ...
"That's a team that's on the rise," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle of the Jazz. "That's a team that's the future of our league, and they made a strong statement tonight."
The future was now in this game as this marks Utah's first win in Dallas since January 2010 and pulls 26-25 Utah to just one game behind 29-26 Dallas, which clings to sixth.
The Mavs are not only usually able to cling to being better than the Jazz; they also win games when they lead after three periods (this marks just the fifth loss of that type in two years) and they win games in OT.
"We didn’t (foul) and so the game went to overtime and I like our chances in overtime; we were 6-1 in overtime," said Carlisle, seeming to suggest that the Mavs' decision to not foul in regulation while up three with seven seconds left had something to do with his confidence that Dallas would be the superior fifth-period club.
But wait: didn't Rick just praise Utah for being worthy of this moment?
The when-to-foul-late debate is a common one in the NBA, but no matter the strategies, the game is also about shot-making - and in the clutch, that was all about the visitors.
Dallas took a 58-51 halftime edge over a Utah team on a 15-game run during which foes scoring 89 points was the norm. But it was the Dallas D that gave way late, first when Rodney Hood hit a regulation-ending 3 (following Carlisle's no-foul choice) ...
... and then when Gordon Hayward made a similarly tough shot at the OT buzzer.
"A devastating loss,” Chandler Parsons said. “Everyone’s down right now as they should be. ... This is a game we got to have and two buzzer-beaters is tough to swallow.”
As always, those opponents' shots are caked with the losers' questions. Why was Raymond Felton the choice to guard Hayward rather than the "stopper" Wesley Matthews? (Or was it understandable that Wes would stick with Hood?) How is it that Dirk Nowitzki (17 points and nine rebounds) is barely touching the ball in OT? (Or is that OK as Parsons' 24 points is what made this such a winnable matchup?)
Carlisle was asked to address the "state of the Mavs."
"The state of the team?" he said. "I like the team. In fact, I love the team. I’ve loved them all year long."
But maybe, right now, more than love, the team needs a break. A break from having played as many games as any NBA team, with all those right ones and all those OTs and, to be fair, a so-far reach above expectations as the front office now turns its attention to trade-deadline and (more likely) post-trade-deadline deals. (See the DB.com breakdown here.)
"I told the guys to enjoy the Break, to get away from this game and not think about it," Rick said. "I love where Parsons is. Who would have thought Parsons and Matthews would be this far along at this point in the season? Nobody. Those guys have been busting their asses. Who thought Felton would have the kind of year he’s having so far? Nobody. We’ve got to work on our health during the break. It’s a good chance for Dirk to get away. Barea is a little banged up. Harris needs some time. Zaza has played a ton of minutes.
"We’ve got to come back refreshed and ready to jump back on another run. It’s tough losing close games and overtime games, stuff like that, but we’ve got to live with it and move on."