Let the celebration begin.
Thanks to Friday’s 114-110 triumph over the Toronto Raptors, the Dallas Mavericks gleefully punched their ticket to the NBA playoffs, clinching their 17th postseason berth in the last 21 years. The win was the 12th in the last 15 games for the Mavs, who will take their 42-29 record into Sunday night’s regular-season finale on the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Despite the Raptors (27-44) not playing four of their starters, the victory didn’t come easy for the Mavs.
The Raptors were down just 110-108 after Baylor-ex Freddie Gillespie hit two free throws with 13.1 seconds left. Josh Richardson then buried a pair of free throws with 9.4 seconds left to pad the Mavs’ lead to 112-108.
Malachi Flynn, however, darted down court and knifed his way to the hoop for a basket to get Toronto within 112-110 of the Mavs with 4.9 seconds to go. Nevertheless, Richardson added two more free throws with just 3.9 seconds remaining to increase the Mavs’ lead to 114-110 and basically seal the game.
“I knew Toronto was going to be difficult to play regardless of who they had available,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve had struggles against teams with poor records all year long. Tonight was another example of it.
“It’s something that we’ve got to grow from and get better from. It’s an NBA basketball game and you put another team out there – forget about their record. They’re going to play hard, they’re going to try to score, and they’re going to try to beat your butt.”
While avoiding the dreaded play-in tournament, the Mavs will open postseason play on the road on May 22 or May 23 in a best-of-seven series against either the Los Angeles Clippers or Denver Nuggets.
If the Mavs defeat the Timberwolves, they’ll enter the playoffs as the Western Conference’s No. 5 seed. But if they lose to Minnesota, they could still be the fifth seed if the Portland Trail Blazers lose their Sunday night contest against the Nuggets.
However, if the Mavs lose to the Timberwolves and the Blazers can carve out a win over the Nuggets, Dallas will finish the regular season as the No. 6 seed out West.
Still, despite being out of sync for most of the night against Toronto, the Mavs are just happy they’ll be one of the 12 teams – not counting the four that survive the play-in tournament –who will have their playoff tickets stamped by Sunday.
“Obviously, I think I remember that tough stretch when we were the 12 or 13th spot and everybody had us out of the playoffs,” point guard Luka Doncic said. “But now we made the playoffs and it’s good.”
Against the Raptors, Kristaps Porzingis finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, Doncic collected 21 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, Jalen Brunson scored 19 points, Dorian Finney-Smith tallied 17 points and Josh Richardson notched 10 points.
Jalen Harris, who graduated from Duncanville High School in 2016, paced the Raptors with 31 points, Malachi Flynn collected 26 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Stanley Johnson added 15 points and 10 boards.
Although this was not a masterpiece of a game by any stretch of the imagination on the Mavs’ part, they did exactly what was necessary to avoid falling back to the No. 6 seed in the West, which is what would have happened had they not overcome the pesky performance by the Raptors.
“Getting a win is important,” Carlisle said. “It solidified either a six or a five spot depending on what happens on Sunday. And avoiding the play-in (tournament) is significant. It’s important.”
So what was Carlisle’s message to his team after the Mavs nearly blew a 19-point second-half lead?
“I don’t talk about what I say to the team in private,” he said. “I don’t coach my team through the press. Guys are happy to win the game and to be removed from the play-in situation.
“We’ve got to gather ourselves for Sunday. It’s a game Sunday night against a Minnesota team that’s been playing very, very well in the last two weeks, so we’ll have our hands full there.”
The Raptors only trailed the Mavs, 44-41, late in the first half. But Nicolo Melli, Porzingis and Brunson drilled back-to-back 3-pointers and suddenly the Mavs were nursing a 53-41 lead.
A short time later, a driving hoop and 3-pointer by Brunson, and a free throw from Finney-Smith increased the Mavs’ lead to 61-44 with 2:01 left before halftime.
Behind 15 points and six rebounds from Porzingis, and 15 points from Brunson, the Mavs went on to take a 66-52 lead at the half.
The Mavs became concerned when Brunson had a difficult time getting off the court after a collision late in the third quarter. But after a visit to the locker room, the third-year guard returned to the court in the fourth quarter.
“He got kneed in the knee – in the inside of the knee, which is a tender area,” Carlisle said. “It’s a stinger.
“He came back and was OK to play, which was important. We need another ball handler against the quickness and the junk defenses and all of that.”
Brunson was 8-of-11 from the field, and said: “I’m fine. It’s all good. Just move on to the next one.”
And after playing the Timberwolves, the Mavs will be moving on to the playoffs. Not bad for a team that started this season with a 9-14 record.
“We had guys who knew what this team is capable of,” Brunson said. “We stuck together and was able to keep fighting through, just kept pushing, and we kept trying to get better and kept sticking together through the tough times.”