DALLAS – Several thousand palms inside American Airlines Center got sweaty Tuesday night when Portland’s Damian Lillard scored to slice the Dallas Mavericks’ 19-point lead down to a mere six points with 1:21 remaining in the game.
But rookie Luka Doncic came to the immediate rescue, restored order and drilled the game-deciding basket with 59 seconds left that helped seal the Mavs’ 111-102 victory over the Trail Blazers. The win was the eighth in a row at home for the Mavs – their longest since 2011 – and padded their overall record to 12-10.
That’s good enough to land the Mavs as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference as they wound up flexing their muscles again and emerged victorious for the 10th time in their last 13 games.
With the Mavs scrambling to make something wonderful happen, Doncic stepped up, took charge and drained a cold-bloodied step-back 3-pointer that put Dallas ahead 108-99. He exasperated Blazers couldn’t recover from that dagger.
“We were in a tough situation,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “The clock was going down and they had defended us pretty well.
“He just made a tremendous individual play driving the defender back, pulling back and hitting the three. It’s a shot we have seen him hit and a shot that he works on. But it was very timely.”
Asked about the shot, Doncic said: “It was going in. That’s what I saw.”
Doncic, however, wasn’t finished in his first game after sitting out Sunday’s contest against the Los Angeles Clippers with a strained right hip. In putting his final stamp on this game, Doncic heaved a long pass down the court which Dennis Smith Jr. retrieved and slammed down to put the exclamation point on this 2-0 home stand.
It was a game the Mavs mostly dominated as they used a 17-3 run on the back end of the first quarter to carry a 34-20 lead into the second quarter. That lead swelled to 60-45 at the half and was at 87-73 entering the fourth period.
“Our defense was great the whole game,” said guard J. J. Barea. “It wasn’t a nice game for either team, but hey, we were up the whole game.”
Barea played after he had to get four stitches in his lip Sunday night due to a collision with the Clippers’ Avery Bradley.
“My body feels good,” said Barea, who collected nine points and two steals. “I couldn’t talk, but not bad.
“It’s a great team win. At times it was a little ugly out there for both teams, but hey, we did a great job tonight.”
Doncic finished the night with 21 points — his 11th 20-point game of the season — and nine rebounds, Wesley Matthews tallied 17 points, and Smith added 12 points. Also for the Mavs, Harrison Barnes scored 11 points, and DeAndre Jordan collected 12 points and 17 rebounds and his 1,300th career blocked shot.
At times, when the Mavs’ starters were lagging behind, the bench came through and breathe new life into the offense. For instance, when Lillard’s two free throws cut the Blazers’ deficit to 79-71 late in the third quarter, Dwight Powell drilled a pair of 3-point shots, and Maxi Kleber pointed at the Mavs’ bench while he was swinging on the rim after he slammed home a dunk.
By the time Dorian Finney-Smith connected on a 3-pointer and Barea drove for a layup , the Mavs had built their lead to as high as 19 points (92-73) with 10:57 left in the game.
“Yeah, it was a big run,” Carlisle said. “Dwight is working hard on his 3-point shooting.
“The first two were great. They were just stroked pure. It gave us a big lift and got the crowd into it.”
Finney-Smith said they’ve been encouraging Powell to shoot more 3-point shots.
“We always tell him to just look at the goal sometimes,” Finney-Smith said.” The bigs don’t even be nowhere near you, and today he just let them go.”
As to the pick-me upper the second team made for the Mavs, Finney-Smith said: “We just tried to go out there and change the game. JJ and Devin (Harris) did a good job of pushing the tempo.
“Me and Maxi and (Powell) were on the glass. Right now we’re clicking, so we’ll just keep it rolling.”
The Mavs held the Blazers to 45.2 percent shooting and forced them into missing 17 of the 24 shots they attempted from the 3-point range. Most importantly, the Mavs sent the sellout crowd of 19,341 home with something to tell their co-workers the next day when they’re standing around the water cooler.
“I think we’re finding a good rhythm here at home,” said Barea, alluding to the Mavs’ 10-2 record at home. “The fans, everybody feels comfortable.
“We know we should beat everybody that comes into this building and I think we’ve found something and we’re rolling with it.”
Whatever that “something” is that the Mavs have found, they hope it traveled to New Orleans with them in time for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game against the Pelicans.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to go over there and get another win,” Barea said. “I think we’re a young team, so we should be good in this back-to-back.”