Final: Cavaliers 99, Mavs 98
Box Score | Highlights
Behind the Box Score
Chandler Parsons finished with 10 assists, a new season-high and his most in a game since November 2013.
Taking the lead on the furious second-quarter comeback was a lineup of Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki, and David Lee. For as much attention as the small-ball lineups have been rightfully receiving lately, there’s still a home in this league for more traditional groups, such as the one which erased a 20-point Cleveland lead in a matter of minutes.
The second 20-point lead the Mavericks erased came in one of the most unpredictable fourth quarters of the entire season. Dallas trailed by 20 points and then Zaza Pachulia happened. (More on him later.) The Mavs roared back into the game behind quick, decisive, and aggressive offense from J.J> Barea and Pachulia, and from a commitment to the defensive glass and a scrappy defensive disposition. Regardless of result, this was an inspired Mavs performance on the road in a difficult environment. That the Mavs were even in a position to shoot for the lead in the closing minutes of this game tells you a lot about this team’s collective resolve. Of course, plenty of mistakes led to both 20-point leads to begin with, and that’s for the Mavs to work on. But their resourcefulness and resolve can’t be questioned.
Zaza Pachulia didn’t play many minutes Monday night, but he played some big ones tonight. With the Mavs struggling to secure defensive rebounds, Rick Carlisle turned to Pachulia to stem the tide. During one stretch toward the beginning of the fourth quarter, he finished a play with a dunk, then the next possession he came away with a loose ball, ran the floor himself, and dunked again. I can’t remember the last time he had multiple dunks in the same game, and the self-deprecating big man would probably say the same thing. Regardless, he made an instant impact off the bench, a pleasant sight for the Mavs. You never know when you’ll be needed, even if it means sitting out for the first three quarters of a game. Pachulia is the ultimate pro, so it wasn’t surprising that he was ready to roll.
The Mavs went with the same small-ball starting lineup as they used Monday night in Charlotte: Williams, Raymond Felton, Parsons, and Nowitzki but replaced Felton with Lee to begin the second half. Meanwhile, Cleveland was without superstar LeBron James, out due to scheduled rest. James is one of the best players in the history of the game, so of course the Cavs were at a disadvantage without him. However, their roster is still stacked with stars, from Kyrie Irving to Kevin Love and on down. The bench is deep and the team is very flexible in terms of defending various styles of play, from small-ball to grit-and-grind and everything in between. They didn’t make the Finals last year by accident. Just as the Mavs have performed very well this season without Dirk Nowitzki, sometimes playing without the superstar “frees up” the other players psychologically to play their game instead of playing off a guy who draws a ton of attention. Guys like Irving and J.R. Smith in particular have more freedom to find their shots, and Love was getting plenty of looks on the block in plays Cleveland doesn’t run nearly as often with an active LeBron. So as tough as it was for the Cavs to play without him, it was equally difficult for the Mavericks to defend what’s almost a completely different team.
The box score will say Cleveland won the second quarter, 26-23, but that does not do justice to just how wild the frame turned out to be. The Cavs opened the second on a 19-2 run to take what appeared to be a commanding 50-30 lead, but Dallas immediately responded with a 19-2 run of its own to get to within three points, 52-49. Games are long in this league, so no matter what the scoreboard says, you’ll have a chance to win every single game if you continue to execute. The Mavs ramped up their defensive pressure and started hitting shots on offense and all of a sudden they were down just one shot. The moral of the story is this: Don’t tune out if a game appears to be out of hand, because it usually isn’t.
The Mavs (34-34) play the Golden State Warriors (60-6) Friday at American Airlines Center. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. Central.