CHICAGO – Trailing the Chicago Bulls by eight points with only 25.6 seconds remaining, the Dallas Mavericks needed a miracle to walk away with a victory.
And they almost pulled it off.
But a desperation 47-foot shot near halfcourt by Luka Doncic barely missed its mark and the Bulls narrowly escaped with a 109-107 triumph over the Mavs Monday night before a United Center crowd of 18,407.
“That’s why I practice that shot,” Doncic said of his desperation heave. “I was (upset) I didn’t make that shot.
“I’m supposed to make that shot.”
From where he was standing, coach Rick Carlisle felt the shot by Doncic had a realistic chance of going in.
“Luka’s shot, I’m standing right behind it – I think it was right on line,” Carlisle said. “So, we gave ourselves a chance to win.
“But getting down (eight) pretty deep in the fourth quarter was tough.”
The loss dipped the Mavs’ record to 37-25 as they ended this week-long four-game road trip with a 2-2 record.
The Mavs played without two of their starters — Kristaps Porzingis (left knee injury recovery) and Seth Curry (lower back tightness). And Jalen Brunson (right shoulder sprain) also sat out.
Still, when it looked like the Bulls were going to salt this game away after a layup by Coby White increased their lead to 107-99 with a mere 25.6 seconds left, the Mavs started flexing their muscles and making Chicago sweat.
First, Maxi Kleber made a steal and a dunk with 18.2 ticks remaining. Delon Wright followed that up with a steal and an assist to Dorian Finney-Smith, who banged in a 3-pointer as the Mavs closed the gap to 107-104 with 15.3 seconds to go.
The Bulls’ Thaddeus Young split a pair of free throws, leaving the Mavs down by four with 13 seconds left. Finney-Smith drained yet another 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds to go, which got the crowd nervous and got the Mavs within 108-107.
After Wendell Carter Jr. made the second of two free throws with 2.6 seconds remaining, the Mavs were out of timeout. Doncic had to launch a desperation halfcourt shot that would have completed the improbable comeback had it not bounced off the rim.
“We just got away from what was working and what we were doing, and eventually they woke up,” Courtney Lee said. “And then once a team like that gets confidence, they can compete with anybody.”
When they watch the film, the Mavs will kick themselves for not finding a way to win this game. The Bulls came into the game losers in 10 of their previous 11 games and are simply playing out the balance of this season knowing they’ll likely have a seat at the NBA Draft Lottery.
But after Dallas led 29-17 late in the first quarter – thanks to 10 points from Doncic – and 58-48 at intermission, something unnerving happened to the Mavs in the third quarter when the Bulls outscored them, 33-17.
The Mavs had more turnovers (seven) than baskets in the third quarter when they went 6-of-18 from the floor. On the flip side, the Bulls converted 13-of-18 shots in the third quarter for a sizzling 72.2 percent and played with more determination in that quarter than the Mavs.
“We didn’t get any calls and they were playing tough,” Doncic said. “That’s all it was.”
Said Carlisle: “The third quarter was obviously our downfall. They came out of the locker room with great intensity and we just didn’t respond.
“We did a few things to make runs at them. I love the way we finished the game in terms of scraping and finding ways to make things happen and get steals and get points on the board.”
Meanwhile, Doncic came out firing and showing no ill effects of his left thumb that he sprained last Wednesday against San Antonio. The second-year point guard – he sat out Sunday’s game in Minnesota — had 10 points, five rebounds and four assists while playing the entire first quarter, and wound up playing 32 of the game’s first 36 minutes.
“(The thumb is) going to take some time to be better,” said Doncic, who finished with 23 points and nine assists but was just 1-of-8 from 3-point range. “But it’s getting better, for sure.”
Tim Hardaway Jr. paced the Mavs with 26 points, Finney-Smith had 18 points and seven rebounds, and Kleber added 13 points and 10 boards. In addition, Boban Marjanovic came off the bench and played 22 minutes and collected 14 points and 12 rebounds.
But it was all for naught as the Mavs, who host New Orleans on Wednesday, simply couldn’t lock down the Bulls when they needed to.
“They just came out (after halftime) with a little bit more juice,” Finney-Smith said. “The first four possessions, I think that’s what changed the momentum. We didn’t get a shot up – we had turnovers – and they got going.”