Rick Carlisle likes to say that every game is a barometer of sorts in the NBA.
Some just have a little more pressure, barometric or otherwise.
Friday was one of those as the Mavericks let a winnable game slip away for the second time in five outings this season.
They did just enough things wrong in crunch time to let the Los Angeles Lakers get to overtime with Danny Green’s 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer. Then the visitors ran away for a 119-110 victory at American Airlines Center.
It should first be noted that this was a sensational early season game, captivating and entertaining throughout with a bushel of highlight-reel thrills.
That said, it was a brutally tough loss to absorb for the Mavericks. So if every game is a learning experience, what did the Mavericks find out about themselves in this one?
“I learned that we got a talented group,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We have an amazing ability to make plays. But we have to work on the next-play mentality when things do get difficult.”
And difficult they would get. The Mavericks had a three-point lead with under 10 seconds left and Luka Doncic was battling a bloody gash on the back of his head. The Mavericks intent was to foul a Laker before they could get off a potential tying 3-pointer.
That didn’t work. Neither did Dwight Powell’s first free throw with 6.4 seconds left. That free throw would have put the Mavericks up by four and essentially ended the game.
The Mavericks have a relatively young team – at least among the players who are in the rotation.
Learning how to win games is an acquired taste and that never comes easily. LeBron James and Anthony Davis – two grizzled veterans who are, as Carlisle said, both MVP candidates – were just a little saltier in the end than the Mavericks.
“This is such a challenging game for a younger team,” Carlisle said. “You’ve got a team like the Lakers with two MVP candidates. You got national TV and all that kind of stuff. This is one of those crucibles where every little thing that happened out there mattered.
“We were tantalizingly close to being 4-1 and being the lead story on all the morning talk shows. And now we’re 3-2 and we got to regroup, get on a plane and go to Cleveland.”
The Mavericks are still showing great signs that this work in progress will move along rather quickly. They were victimized Friday by some untimely mistakes.
Carlisle took the blame for most of them. He said the intent was to foul after Powell hit the second free throw to make it 103-100. The Mavericks couldn’t get to a Laker in time to foul and James, who drove into the paint, whipped a pass to Green, who did what he gets paid to do as one of the NBA’s deadliest shooters. He hit the shot at the buzzer.
“Our plan in that situation was to foul a guy on the catch in a non-shooting situation,” Carlisle said. “The fact that we weren’t able to it is on me. It’s as simple as that.”
It was a miserable end from the Mavericks’ point of view to a very entertaining early season game.
In the third quarter, when the Lakers eliminated a 10-point deficit, they turned it into a game of one-upsmanship. James and Doncic – both of whom had triple doubles – went at each other and put on a thrilling show.
Gone was the Mavericks sticky first-half defense. Instead, it became a highlight show.
“In the second half, it got more difficult,” Carlisle said. “They came out with more force. They played a little smaller, played with more speed. James didn’t take as many rests. It was more challenging stuff.
“We just got to do better. It’s similar to the Portland game in many ways. We had a pretty good lead at halftime and then the opposing team just turned it up and gradually got it back even. It was a tough game from that standpoint.”
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