DALLAS – It was Superhero Day at American Airlines Center on Sunday afternoon. And the Dallas Mavericks sure did employ some superhuman efforts in snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Dogged by the super-hot shooting of Portland’s Damian Lillard in the third quarter, the Mavs put on their Superman capes in the fourth quarter and rallied from 15 down to squeak past the Trail Blazers, 102-101, before a sellout crowd of 20,340.
The win was the Mavs’ sixth in their last nine games and padded their overall record to 26-29 going into Monday’s game in Houston. And it came as the Mavs tighten the screws defensively, holding the Trail Blazers to just nine points in the fourth quarter, while scoring 24 points themselves.
“It’s probably our best quarter of the year if you just take into consideration the whole situation,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We were down pretty significantly headed into the fourth (quarter).
“They’re a great finishing team with their guards and their playmaking, and to go 24-9 is a great effort defensively.”
Luka Doncic snapped a tie when he drove inside, scored, was fouled and completed the three-point play to give the Mavs a 102-99 lead with 1:28 remaining in the game. CJ McCollum then scored to get the Blazers to within a point of the Mavs with 34 seconds left.
After Doncic misfired on a 3-pointer, Lillard missed on a hard drive inside the paint and the Mavs were able to win their 500th home game since thy moved to AAC in time for the 2001-’02 season.
“We were just being resilient and making sure that we keep fighting,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “We knew they were going to make their run.
“We knew Damian Lillard was going to make tough shots, so we just had to stay poise and continue to keep fighting.”
Lillard scored 16 consecutive points during one stretch, including 21 of his game-high 30 points in the third quarter. No matter who the Mavs had guarding him, the Blazers’ All-Star guard was just in one of those blistering zones where he was untouchable.
“He’s an All-Star and one of these years he’ll be a top MVP candidate.,” Carlisle said. “He’s that good.
“He’s going to have some stretches like that, but as a team we did a great job the last six minutes to get the win.”
A basket by Rodney Hood put Portland ahead, 96-81, with 10:43 remaining in the game. From there, the Mavs finished on a spirited 21-5 kick as Doncic poured in 13 of his team-high 28 points in the final quarter, and Dorian Finney-Smith locked up Lillard defensively.
“Something that’s important to understand right now is that Luka has an amazing amount of responsibilities on this team,” Carlisle said. “He’s got to make good decisions, he’s got to score, and he’s got to get guys shots, and he’s got to guard people and rebound.
“Since the trade (nearly two weeks ago). . .more responsibilities are falling on Luka, and this is really an important 27-28-game stretch for him to feel what this is all about and be able to learn what it feels like to have to deliver in all these different areas. He’s certainly capable of doing it, but it’s a little bit different deal than before the trade for sure.”
With Hardaway playing the role of Robin to Doncic’s Batman, the Mavs had a terrific one-two punch that eventually kayoed the Blazers. Hardaway scored 24 points on 9-of-18 shots and was the perfect sidekick to Doncic, who really controlled this game from start to finish.
“I know the first couple of games I knew I was going to be kind of rusty not playing for a week, and then transitioning to a new team,” Hardaway said. “I knew the first couple of games were going to be kind of tough, but at the same time I knew the shots I was taking were good shots.”
Hardaway tallied 10 points in the third quarter to help keep the Mavs within striking distance of the Blazers.
“I thought Hardaway Jr. had obviously his best game, “ Carlisle said. “He’s starting to feel his way here and how he’s going to fit in.
“He was aggressive and smart and he hit big buckets all night long.”
The Mavs led 25-24 after the first quarter, but trailed 57-47 at intermission. A period linking the first and second quarters were the beginning of a wild sequence that saw Portland outscore the Mavs 20-1.
However, when it matters most, the Mavs picked themselves up and got their act together just in time to pull out an improbable victory.
“An exciting game,” Carlisle said. “It was truly some ugly stretches early in the middle, but they can make you look bad with their skill guys, especially Lillard.
“Him in the third quarter, when it gets like that it’s tough. But our guys didn’t get down. They kept slugging and fighting and that was great to see.”
Carlisle added that it was great to see Doncic shoulder the load when he knows he’s going to consistently see two defenders coming his way at one time.
“The important thing is I’ve got to watch his minutes and try to keep him fresh throughout the games,” Carlisle said. “But in terms of the responsibility, all of the attention he’s gotten – and deservingly so – and some of the heroic things at the end of games, with all that comes even more visibility and more responsibility.
“I love the fact that he loves carrying the load. He has great belief in himself. He’s one of these dynamic young players that has the charisma to give his teammates confidence.”
And the Mavs rode that confidence to the winner’s circle.
“Our job is to keep his trajectory consistency moving upward and to make sure that he understands the load and can carry the load, and I think he can,” Carlisle said of Doncic. “I don’t have any doubt that he can.”
NOTES: Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts applauded the NBA for adding Dirk Nowitzki and Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade to this year’s All-Star roster. But Stotts believes at least one more player should have been added to the All-Star team. “Surprised they didn’t throw Vince (Carter) in there too,” Stotts said. “Of course, Vince is never going to retire, so I guess they got to get a definite commitment from Vince. But I think it was a great tribute to those two guys. It kind of sets a precedent, so if you’re one of the all-time greats, you get an invite to the All-Star game. I really like the fact that Dirk’s going to be in the Three-Point Shooting contest. That’s fun to see. I want Vince to be in the Dunk Contest too, but maybe next year.” Stotts was an assistant coach with the Mavs from 2008’-12, while Carter played for the Mavs from 2011-’14. Carter, by the way, is the oldest player in the NBA at age 42. He was chosen fifth overall in the same 1998 NBA Draft that Nowitzki was picked ninth. Wade was selected fifth overall in the 2003 draft. . .Stotts was the offensive coordinator on Rick Carlisle’s staff when the Mavs captured the 2011 NBA title/ “Being with Rick gave me a different outlook on how to manage a team, how to coach a team,” Stotts said. “I think you can talk about the X’s and O’s, but I think it’s more use the video, communication with the players, setting a practice plan and how you go about your everyday business was as much what I took from him as anything.”. .The Mavs will play at Houston on Monday and then play their final game before the All-Star break on Wednesday at home against Miami.