DENVER – This was one of those cruel-and-unusual-punishment kind of game for the Dallas Mavericks.
On a Thursday that started with an early morning flight from Dallas, the Mavs weathered one storm after another from the Denver Nuggets. Unfortunately, the game lasted one second too long as Nikola Jokic scored on a wild off-balanced nine-foot unimaginable turnaround fadeaway jumper at the buzzer over the outstretched arms of Dwight Powell and the Nuggets sneaked out of the Pepsi Center with a 100-99 triumph over the Mavs.
The loss was disappointing on all levels for the Mavs. That’s because they know they truly outplayed one of the four-best teams in the NBA for the lion’s share of the game, but came away empty-handed.
“The effort was great,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s just getting over the hump is where we’ve got to get to.
“We did many, many things well. And (Jokic) hit a very difficult shot.”
It appeared as though the Mavs were going to pull one of their biggest upsets of the season when Luka Doncic stormed through the lane and brought the Mavs’ bench to its collective feet when he throw down a vicious tomahawk dunk right over Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee to put Dallas up, 99,98, with just 5.8 seconds left.
In his attempt to play defense, Millsap fouled Doncic on the play. However, Doncic missed the free throw, thus leaving the door open for the Nuggets to find a way to win it at the end, which they did.
Meanwhile, Doncic blamed himself for not making the free throw that – the way things turned out – would have forced the Nuggets to make a basket like the one Jokic made just to send the game into overtime.
“I should have made that free throw,” said Doncic, who was 3-of-7 from the charity stripe. “I feel like I let my team down.”
The Mavs took a comfortable-at-that-time 91-79 lead with 11:21 remaining in the game on a bucket by Doncic. But the Mavs only made three of their final 18 shots and committed four turnovers in wilting down the stretch.
“We missed about five wide open shots,” Carlisle said. “We had some great looks — they made a run.
“I thought we kept our poise really well. Luka made a great play to get the lead and (Jokic) hit as difficult a shot as you’re going to hit to win a game with no time left.”
The loss was the 12th in the last 13 games – and seventh in a row — for the Mavs and dropped their record to 27-41. Denver, meanwhile, increased its record to 45-22.
As far as trying to fly to Denver itself, the Mavs had all sorts of difficulties. The Mavs were originally slated to fly out of Dallas on Wednesday at 3 p.m. CDT and arrive in Denver at 4 p.m. MDT.
But because of a so-called bomb cyclone – basically a blizzard of historic proportions — that created treacherous weather conditions in Denver, the Mavs had to change their flight plans because the entire Denver International Airport was closed to all traffic on Wednesday.
Ultimately, the Mavs left Dallas on Thursday at 8 a.m. CDT and arrived at their Denver hotel at 9:45 a.m. MDT. Not exactly ideal conditions considering the Mavs’ regular routine was altered – they canceled their Thursday morning shootaround – and they had to resort to Plan B.
“It would have been a messed up day if the game was like a 7 o’clock start,” said forward Dirk Nowitzki, who scored nine points. “But the game was at 8:45 almost, we got to rest all day, everybody got his nap routine.
“We were at the hotel by about (9:45 Thursday morning), so obviously that wasn’t any excuse at all. We played well enough to steal the game.”
Doncic finished the game one assist shy of a triple-double as he collected 24 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, while Brunson added 20 points, five rebounds and four assists. Also for Dallas, Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 17 points, Powell had 16 points and 10 boards, and Maxi Kleber finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
On the strength of eight points from Powell and seven apiece by Brunson and Hardaway, the Mavs took a 29-20 lead late in the first quarter. Powell, in fact, scored eight of Dallas’ first 10 points as the Mavs seemed well rested after an unusual day of traveling.
After Millsap scored his 20th point at that juncture of the game to put the Nuggets ahead 49-44 with 3:34 left before intermission, the Mavs finished the half on a spirited 13-2 run and went to the locker room nursing a 57-51 lead. Hardaway popped in a pair of 3-pointers to highlight the run, and a pair of free throws by Kleber ended it as the Mavs skipped to the dressing room with that six-point cushion.
When the Nuggets were making one of their runs late in the third quarter, Nowitzki was whistled for a technical foul. And he wasn’t even in the game.
“Actually I wasn’t on the bench – I was on the baseline,” Nowitzki said. “I think I got the tech, actually, because I didn’t cuss, which is one of the few times I didn’t cuss, so that’s why I was confused why I got the tech.
“I guess the ref said its because I was on the court, which is not true. I was behind the court, I was not on the court. But I’m going to fight that one and get my money back.”
After this gut-punching loss, the Mavs will host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. But they’ll always remember that thunderous dunk by Doncic which almost won this game.
“I love the poise that we kept when they were making the run, and I love the aggression on the play when Luka dunked the ball and got fouled,” Carlisle said. “And then it comes down to one play.”
NOTES: Over 5,000 folks spent Wednesday night in Denver International Airport, according to officials, due to the horrific weather conditions that ultimately forced the entire airport to close. A total of 7.1 inches of snow fell in Denver on Wednesday, and the blizzard conditions got the city caught up for the season. Some 39.2 inches of snow has now fell in Denver during this winter season. . . Center Salah Mejri explained that he was overjoyed that the Mavs decided not to fly to Denver on Wednesday. “I’ve traveled a lot in Europe, to Russia where it’s very cold in Moscow,” Mejri said. “Even here I traveled to very cold places like Minnesota in the winter and I never saw something like how it was snowing. It was crazy.”. . Guard Courtney Lee explained that arriving in the city on the same day of the game comes with many challenges. “We got to the hotel (at 9:45) and then we had a meeting at 11 and everybody was tired,” Lee said. “So from that meeting, people went back to the room and just slept the whole time, as opposed to we had a shootaround, go to the gym, break a sweat, get loose. Or have a later meeting throughout the day, and then you can get into your routine. So, it just threw a lot of stuff off. It takes you all the way back to your AAU days when you’re traveling and playing on the same day.”