The Dallas Mavericks, having been crushed and then soul-crushed in their previous two losses, were ripe for the crushing again Thursday at the AAC, down 21 points to a superior Utah team with 6:09 remaining in the third quarter.
But -- and stop me if you've heard this before -- this edition of the Mavs possesses the elusive "basketball soul.'' And led, rather improbably, by young Justin Anderson, it put that soul on display to somehow manage a rather amazing 112-105 victory over the Jazz in overtime.
"We’ve put ourselves in tough situations, some of which we’ve battled out of and some which we haven’t,'' said Harrison Barnes, who was largely unstoppable with 31 points. "But this is a great victory for us.’’
Tough situations ... like the one Anderson has found himself in all year.
Let's remember a few days ago, in our Q-and-A with Justin, in which he said, "I have to continue to prove to (coach Rick Carlisle), that he can trust me out there against any of the best players night-in and night-out, as he did last year. You’ve got to control the 'controllables,' and be ready when my number is called, and I think that’s something that he really respects: when he calls my number I’m ready and I’m ready to play hard for him.''
(Simba also said of Rick, "He’s a great dude, and he’s wired different. And what I mean by that, is he has a very different sense of humor. He has no filter, just because of how confident he is on who he is as a person.'' Go read it. It's fun.)
The Mavs have some trickle-down confidence, therefore, as misplaced as that might be, given their 21-32 record. And, with the team down 71-50 with just under seven minutes to go in the third, Rick showed confidence in injecting Anderson into the game for the first time.
Or maybe he was showing his "very different sense of humor.'' I'm not sure.
Anyway, Anderson was a bolt of lightening here, using his 10 minutes to gather a few stats, but really much more. By the time he scored a put-back dunk early in the fourth (his only bucket!) Dallas was within eight. ... and it was a ballgame.
"We weren’t playing well, we were fighting hard enough, and the guy who changed the game was Anderson,’’ Carlisle said. "Justin Anderson came in with energy, with force. We really got juiced during his stretch. He played to exhaustion and the other guys were able to find a way to take it home.’’
The "other guys'' featured Barnes, of course. And Dirk Nowitzki, who hit a massive jumper with 2.8 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 100, totaling 20. Wesley Matthews and Devin Harris were also featured players here, on both ends.
"The guys have been fighting all year,’’ Carlisle said. "Obviously our guys did some great things execution-wise to get it to overtime – hats off to them.’’
Anderson is probably the leading candidate for "The Dirkie'' here (you vote!) because of his work ethic and the fact that Carlisle touted him so. But toss in a Dallas subtlety here, too; the leadership that Nowitzki brings to this program is grossly underrated by many ... but lauded on Thursday by Anderson.
"Flying back from Denver (on Monday) -- and I didn’t have my best game out there defensively -- Dirk challenged me,’’ Anderson said. "Dirk challenged me in front of those guys on the plane. He was like, ‘Hey man, get back to playing as hard as you can, focusing on defense, and the offense is going to come.’
"Hearing it him from was different. It was an eye-opener, and I just love that he told me that he believed in me and get back to just playing and not worrying about anything else.. ... Just go balls-out."
Harris scored the first four points of OT and Barnes the last eight, and the "balls-out'' verdict was in:
"We are just a resilient group,’’ Barnes said. "We are going to keep playing hard every single game.’’
Well, maybe not for every minute of every game; there were times, early on, when the Mavs played as if they understood the value of the lottery just as well as they understand the value of trying to fight from slot No. 11 in the West to slot No. 8. But Matthews, a basketball soul if there ever was one, swears the confidence -- in team and in teammates -- never wavered.
"Justin came in with a lot of energy and changed the complexion of the game up,'' Matthews said. "Guys stepped up big time and we fought. We knew we could compete with this team.’’
That's irrational and improbable but maybe, as Anderson said about his coach, the Mavs are somehow ... "wired different.''