The Dallas Mavericks caught a break Wednesday night in Cleveland — no LeBron James, who rode the pine as he caught a night of rest for the stretch run.
The Mavs also got key efforts from Zaza Pachulia and J.J. Barea off the bench in the fourth quarter. But it wasn't enough, as the Mavs lost to the Cavaliers, 99-98.
The bench contributions came on a night when most of the starters were off from the field and the Cavaliers were getting huge nights from the other two members of their "Big Three," Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle rode an unusual group down the stretch, which included Barea, Pachulia and Devin Harris to go along with Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons.
"I knew headed into this period (of the season) everything would be on the table in terms of who played, (and) hot lineups (were what) we were going to roll with," Carlisle said. "Tonight was a great example of where we are."
With the loss Dallas returned to eighth place in the Western Conference entering Friday's game with Golden State. The Mavs are 1 1/2 games ahead of Utah.
The score leads you to believe it was a tight game. Well, it was at the end, thanks to a frenetic Mavericks (34-34) comeback from 15 points down to start the fourth quarter. In fact, the Mavericks fell behind the Cavs (47-19) by 20 points twice in the game and nearly crawled back into the contest both times, but never led for a single second.
The final two minutes were unkind. Down a point the Mavs missed a pair of chances to take the lead on 3-pointers by Nowitzki and Harris. Irving — who led all players with 33 points — pushed the lead back to four points with a layup, but Nowitzki's patented fadeaway jumper cut the lead to 97-95 with 1:10 left.
The Mavs had another chance to take the lead, but a Barea turnover spoiled it. Barea was on the wing and Nowitzki was at the top of the key, with Pachulia appearing to set a pick. Nowitzki was open, but Barea held the ball so Nowitzki cut to the basket. Unfortunately Barea threw the ball away at nearly the same moment, giving the Cavaliers a chance to push the lead back to two possessions.
But Irving, who seemed to be the only Cavalier hitting baskets in the fourth quarter, committed a turnover of his own, throwing the ball out of bounds with 16 seconds left to give Dallas a fourth chance to take the lead.
But the fourth opportunity went the way of the first three. This time Harris brought the ball up the floor and tried a give-and-go with Nowitzki. When that didn't work Harris brought the ball back out and tried to lob the ball to Nowitzki, who was posting up Irving. But Irving stole the pass, which led to a foul with two seconds left.
Upon replay, it appeared that Irving may have grabbed Nowitzki by the waist and helped him out of position, but no call was made.
"We had a couple of shots we did rush (late in the game)," Carlisle said. "But I'm proud of how we hung in there and got that close. The play involving Harris and Dirk was unlucky."
That play (and some reaction to it):
Irving made both free throws, giving Cleveland a four-point lead. Deron Williams hit a 3 at the buzzer for Dallas to make it a one-point game.
A night after the three-guard alignment yielded great results for Dallas, the Mavs had just one starter in double figures — Nowitzki with 20 points. The Cavaliers outclassed the Mavs on the boards, 48-32, with Cavs forward Kevin Love having one of his patented huge rebounding nights, grabbing 18 along with 22 points.
With Chandler Parsons (six points), Wesley Matthews (five points) and Raymond Felton (no assists one game after dishing out a dozen) all having subpar nights, the Mavs needed a huge night from the bench, and they got it. Forward David Lee poured in 20 points in 22 minutes. Barea scored nine of his 17 points in the fourth quarter.
But Pachulia made the biggest difference. With Dallas getting hammered on the boards, Pachulia came in and stopped the bleeding, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds, including a layup and two free throws late that helped the Mavs make it a one-possession game. Pachulia's 13 minutes came one game after he played just six minutes against Charlotte on Monday night.
"He's a pro and a terrific player," Carlisle said. "We were getting manhandled physically when I put him in and he came in and made a difference. His physical presence turned the game at that time and gave us a chance to get in it."
But the "chance'' wasn't enough.
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