WASHINGTON – Everybody will point fingers at the final 1.8 seconds Friday night, when Bradley Beal got loose for a game-winning layup.
If only it were that simple.
Truth be told, long before that final play, mistakes that piled up like the wadded-up towels in the postgame locker room doomed the Mavericks to a road loss that was as uncharacteristic of them as it was frustrating.
Beal’s bucket with 0.2 seconds left was the last, gut-wrenching error that pushed the Mavericks over the ledge for a 119-118 loss to the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena.
It was a rare road loss, dropping the Mavericks to 17-8 in hostile environs. But the bigger issue is that it dropped them to 10-11 in their last 21 games and 31-21 overall. They are dropping in the Western Conference standings and have to be mindful of several teams that now are creeping within striking distance behind them.
It also dropped their record in clutch games – defined by when the score is within five points at some juncture in the final five minutes – to 10-16.
“It was a blur,” said Jalen Brunson of the final play. “I thought we had him. He caught the ball and I still thought we were in good position. He made a tough layup. Kudos to them.
“(But) the game wasn’t lost on that last play. We just got to talk a little more. This team is way to close to talk as (little) as we did tonight. This is a very uncharacteristic night for us. We just weren’t talking. Hopefully it’s a one-time thing.”
The Mavericks allowed the Wizards to shoot 50 percent from 3-point land (19-of-38) and 50 percent overall. Beal had 29 points, but there were five other Wizards who scored in double figures, including 3-point specialist Davis Bertans, who had 20 points.
It’s clear that losing close games is starting to grate on this team. Asked if the Mavericks eventually will figure out how to win close games down the stretch more consistently, Dorian Finney-Smith said:
“We better hurry up, man. Everybody is going to look at that last play, but we didn’t get enough stops the whole game. They had six guys in double figures. Nearly 20 threes. It’s hard to win. We just got to do a better job guarding guys.
“I feel like we gave this one away, but we got to bounce back.”
They won’t have to wait long to do so, visiting Charlotte on Saturday night.
The Mavericks were playing a Washington team that was busy at the trade deadline and then got 20 points from newcomer Shabazz Napier, who had been with the Wizards barely 24 hours.
And while the Mavericks were soft defensively most of the night, the last play captured the evening’s shortcomings perfectly.
“We made a mistake on defense and they made a great play,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But the game was lost throughout. We had too many miscommunications and it was a collection of defensive mistakes over 47 minutes and 58.2 seconds or whatever it was that led to this. Very disappointing.”
Carlisle acknowledged that foul trouble played a role with Kristaps Porzingis, who had played just 14 minutes through three quarters while picking up four fouls.
“His foul trouble was certainly an issue in the game,” he said. “Everyone was involved with mistakes, including the coaching staff. It’s on all of us. We win and lose together.”
Porzingis, by the way, played without a mask on his broken nose, which happened in Wednesday’s game against Memphis. He had a black eye, and said after the game that he hopes to have his nose reset next week after the team returns to Dallas.
Of greater concern to him was the way the Mavericks played.
“Just another tough loss, especially when you’re not suppose to lose, and to lose this way, it’s very frustrating,” Porzingis said. “That’s how the NBA is. Ups and downs. The most important thing is that we keep learning from these things.”
Asked if he was concerned that the inability to win tight contests was going to be an issue for the rest of the season, he said no.
“Sooner or later, of course,” he said of whether the team will figure it out. “Little things that happen throughout the game. We all individually can sit down and say, I could have done this better, could have done that better. It’s important that everybody’s self-aware and self-analyzing. I feel like this group is. I have no doubt sooner or later we’ll be in a good place.”