DALLAS – After what happened Sunday night at American Airlines Center, the Dallas Mavericks have to be thinking what do they have to do in order to secure a victory.
The Mavs held one of the top teams in the NBA to 19 points under their season average, and also limited the NBA’s leading scorer to almost 17 points under his average. But that stout defensive performance wasn’t enough.
Eric Gordon tallied a game-high 26 points and the Houston Rockets held on to nip the Mavs, 94-93, before a sellout crowd of 20,423.
It was the 10th loss in the last 11 games for the Mavs, who dipped to 27-39 on the season entering Tuesday’s 7 p.m. home game against the San Antonio Spurs.
Dallas trailed by as much as 12 points, but had a chance to win it at the end. James Harden missed a driving layup and the Mavs rebounded the ball with seven seconds remaining.
Shortly after Luka Doncic got the ball across midcourt, he was met by three members of the Rockets. Doncic, who hurt his knee with less than five minutes to go in the game, passed the ball in the right corner to Jalen Brunson.
But the rookie from Villanova had very little time to gather himself, and his 14-footer was unceremoniously blocked by Chris Paul at the buzzer.
“He made a great defensive play,” Brunson said. “I kind of had the ball with like one second left.
“Luka was being triple-teamed, so I got the ball and looked at the clock and it was one second (remaining) and I just tried to get it up there. He just made a great play.”
The Mavs could have employed a timeout to set up a final play, but coach Rick Carlisle said he felt it was best to trust his players in that situation.
“I decided not to call timeout and go, Carlisle said. “I always feel in those situations if you have playmakers you trust, then you’re going to have a better chance to get an open look if you go, and it didn’t work out.
“In hindsight, I should have called timeout. I trust Luka and Brunson and the other guys in there that those guys can make a play, and we just were unable.”
The 94 points were the fewest the Mavs have allowed in a game since they defeated Charlotte, 99-93, on Feb. 6, ad the fewest the Rockets have scored in a win in two-and-a-half seasons. The Mavs also beat the Rockets on the boards, 51-41, forced Houston into missing 36 of its 52 shots from 3-point range, and also held the Rockets to just 36.4 percent shooting.
But somehow, some way, it was the Rockets who came away with their eight straight victory and padded their record to 41-25.
“The compete level was tremendous – very impressive,” Carlisle said. “You hold these guys to 94 and you hold Harden to 20 points, you really busted your butt out there, so I’m really proud of the effort
“It’s just right now with wins so difficult to come by, there’s no moral victory in it.”
Harden was just 7-of-25 from the field and only 3-of- 15 from 3-point land. He picked up his fifth foul less than a minute into the second half, and finished the game with a pedestrian-like 20 points.
“Effort worked and a lot of different looks, a lot of different schemes, a lot of communication going on out there,” Carlisle said, when asked how the Mavs defended Harden. “It wasn’t perfect all the time obviously, but as the game went on we got tougher and that was great to see.
“The crowd was great, we made plays. But there’s always a couple of back-breaking plays that happen when you lose a game like that, and we just got to work to avoid those next game.”
Doncic finished with 19 points, a career-high 15 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks. By halftime, Doncic already had 10 points and 13 rebounds, which marks the first time in his career he reached double-double status by halftime.
However, Doncic drove and came away limping after he scored on a finger roll with 5:03 left that got the Mavs within 89-86 of the Rockets. Doncic, though, remained in the game, although it was clear that he was favoring his left knee.
“I don’t know if he banged his knee or if he landed on it, but the hope is that it’s not serious,” Carlisle said. “He did finish the game, so well see. We’ll know more tomorrow.”
Brunson helped the Mavs get off to a fast start. With the score tied at 22-all late in the first quarter, Brunson already had 12 of 18 points at that juncture.
The Mavs went on to lead, 26-25, after the first quarter, but trailed 58-54 at the half and 81-72 after the third quarter. Still, Maxi Kleber described it as “super frustrating” to play so well on the defensive end of the court and not come away with a victory.
“We had that game,” said Kleber, who had 10 points,11 rebounds and three blocks after missing the previous two games due to a left knee effusion. “It was tough, but they’re very talented players and they know how to close games, too.
“They were very clam, even if they didn’t make their shots. But obviously it’s very frustrating. We had that game today.”
NOTES: Coach Rick Carlisle said there are no plans to reduce Luka Doncic’s minutes now that the Mavs’ playoff chances appear to be slipping away. “We need guys going as hard as they can go,” Carlisle said. “Look, our goal is to win games, and so he’s obviously very important to that. Again, a big part of this last segment of the season is him getting a real taste for what it means to have to carry a certain load. In this case he’s got to carry a substantial load defensively, offensively and with rebounding. Everyone has a responsibility to take care of the ball and he’s done better in recent games.”. . On that vaunted step-back 3-point shot Doncic employs that’s similar to that of the Rockets’ James Harden, Carlisle said: “I like his step-back shot for him if it’s aggressive, decisive and on balance. He’s one of the few guys that really executes it at a high level with consistency, but our style of play is going to be dictated by how our team is built, who the other guys are that he’s playing with, etc. etc. Having some of Harden’s abilities is a great quality to the extent to which we’ll play that way. We’re not doing much of it this year. End of quarters, you see (Doncic) isolated with the ball. But going forward I think it’s important that our team has the right balance based on our roster. We don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like with (power forward Kristaps) Porzingis in the mix next year. I don’t see Luka having the ball as much as Harden does in those types of situations.”. .Dirk Nowitzki only played seven minutes – all in the first half – on Sunday and collected six points on 1-of-3 shots. “It’s a coach’s decision — the matchups were very difficult,” Carlisle said. “I thought he did well to get some shots and he scrambled around in the first half, but it was tough.”. . .Some high-powered athletes from other sports attended Sunday’s game. That includes Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Pat Mahomes, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Michelle Carter (shot put), and five-time NFL Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson.