CLEVELAND – With Luka Doncic in streets clothes, Christian Wood found himself with the ball in his hands Saturday night at Rockets Mortgage FieldHouse and the game on the line.
But with the Cleveland Cavaliers applying a suffocating defense and time almost running out, the best Wood could do was fire up a long desperation shot. The shot missed its mark and the shorthanded Mavs left town shrugging their shoulders following a narrow 100-99 loss in overtime to the Cavs.
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back after defeating Portland in Dallas on Friday, the Mavs were without starters Spencer Dinwiddie (right knee, injury recovery), Dwight Powell (left thigh contusion) and Doncic (right quad strain). They also were without two of their top reserves — Josh Green (right elbow sprain) and Maxi Kleber (right hamstring tear).
But there the Mavs were, slugging it out and mixing it up on the road with one of the NBA’s best teams.
In fact, the Mavs had a chance to win. Following a missed shot by Cavs center Jarrett Allen, Kemba Walker came down and fired up a shot that got wedged between the basket and the backboard with 12.7 seconds left.
That prompted a jump ball at midcourt, which Christian Wood won over Allen. But after the ball went from Walker to Tim Hardaway Jr. and to Wood, only seconds remained on the clock before Wood was forced to heave a desperation long three-pointer over the outstretched hands of Evan Mobley as time expired.
“It was definitely a scramble situation,” Wood said. “I take accountability for that. Evan Mobley had a good close-out. I think I had a good look on a step-back, but then I saw Frank (Ntilikina) at the last second.
“That’s why you saw me double-clutch, and I kind of just got it up. I definitely got to get a better shot than that, but overall I think I helped our team tonight and we put ourselves in position to try and win this game.”
Wood finished with 26 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in 43 minutes. But the big story was the emergence of Walker, who labored for 42 minutes and collected a game-high 32 points, five rebounds and seven assists in his first extensive duty since signing with the Mavs late last month.
Walker scored the Mavs’ first nine points and looked very comfortable running the offense. And it was a pressure-packed basket by Walker – when he was on the wing and darted by Allen – that tied the game at 96 with 3.5 seconds left in regulation and sent it into overtime.
“I thought Kemba did an incredible job of running the offense, getting guys involved and putting pressure on their defense,” coach Jason Kidd said. “Also, just being able to play off of that jump ball and trusting him.
“He saw Timmie was open and I thought Timmie would shoot that. Timmie made the right pass by throwing it to C-Wood. He just didn’t get a good shot. Nothing against C-Wood there. I probably should have taken a timeout with a second or two left. Again, guys fought, so hopefully we can build on this.”
Walker, who was 12-of-25 from the field, would most definitely like to build off of what he was able to contribute on Saturday.
“It was tough one,” Walker said. “We put ourselves in position to win the game — we just came up short.
“We don’t want to have any moral victories. We played well, we played together. It was a great effort.”
Now, about that wedge shot, Walker said: “That was the first time I’ve really ever shot one. In the moment, I’m like of course right now I would shoot one. But it gave us a jump ball opportunity.”
After losing, 105-90, in Dallas to the Cavs this past Wednesday, not many gave the Mavs a chance against a Cavs’ team that’s 20-11 and one of the top teams in the entire NBA. But the Mavs led 29-27 after the first quarter, 49-47 at the half, 60-50 early in the third quarter, and 75-67 entering the final quarter.
However, Donovan Mitchell (25 points) and Darius Garland (18 points, 12 assists, four steals) started attacking the basket, and that led to Cleveland’s comeback.
Walker’s three-pointer to open the overtime session were the only points the Mavs scored during overtime. Caris LeVert’s short jumper and a dunk by Allen were the only points Cleveland tallied in overtime.
So how were the Mavs – sans some pretty important players in their rotation – able to battle so well against the Cavs?
“Pride,” Walker said. “Just pride. We wanted to come out and do what we can to try and win.
“We executed our game plan pretty well. We just came up short.”
Kidd said he learned a little bit more about his team during their gallant effort against the Cavs.
“I think it’s just the character of all the guys that participated tonight,” he said. “The guys played hard. There was no excuse. We put ourselves in a position to win a game against a very good team on the road.
“We had our chances. We just can’t get the ball to go in the basket for us right now coming down the stretch. But the guys played well. If we can play that hard, we’ll put ourselves in a position to win a lot of games.”
That’s the same sentiment shared by Wood, who was 9-of-18 from the field.
“I think anybody would be tired playing two games in less than 24 hours,” Wood said. “I definitely was a little fatigue, but there’s no excuses.
“Everybody played hard tonight, and that’s something we love to see, especially missing a lot of big pieces. That’s the energy you can ask for, so we can’t hang our heads on this loss.”
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