The Mavericks’ basic philosophy revolves around sharing the ball, particularly driving into the paint and kicking to open teammates.
On Wednesday, they probably made one pass too many on the final possession in a game that was there for the taking.
The Mavericks failed to get a shot off on the last possession. They trailed by one and the ball was zipping around the court after Luka Doncic was forced to give it up by an aggressive Denver defense.
At the end, an extra pass from Dorian Finney-Smith skittered into the backcourt untouched and the Nuggets took an improbable 107-106 victory over the Mavericks at American Airlines Center.
The fruitless last play wasn’t the only reason the Mavericks fell to 2-2 on this season-long six-game home stand and 23-14 for the season. They missed countless opportunities to take better control of the game earlier in the second half.
When they didn’t do that, they had trouble down the stretch. They could not score in the final two minutes, giving the Nuggets the opportunity to erase a 106-101 deficit behind Nikola Jokic.
The Mavericks only trailed for 2 minutes, 10 seconds the entire game. But the 7.9 seconds at the end was the time that mattered.
“A very tough game,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Didn’t seem like either team played great (and) it was just going to come down to one or two plays, and that’s what happened. We didn’t do a good job on the Jokić basket at the end.
“And then on our last offensive possession, they did a good job defending it and we turned it over. Whenever these things happen, I take responsibility for that and we’ve got to work on it. It’s just a tough loss. We’re all disappointed.”
“The Jokic basket” came with 7.9 ticks showing. He backed Finney-Smith into the paint and when no double team arrived, the 7-footer coaxed in a short push shot for the lead.
It was the capper of a strong overall night for Denver’s big man, who had 33 points, seven assists and six rebounds. He had 21 of his points in the third quarter when he kept the Nuggets afloat.
Meanwhile, Doncic had 27 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, but was scoreless in seven-plus minutes in the fourth quarter when the Nuggets were determined to get the ball out of his hands.
Both teams had trouble scoring in the fourth quarter after an offensive explosion in the third.
The game was ultra-close throughout and that it came down to a photo finish was no surprise.
The Mavericks’ last play, however, left them shaking their heads.
“We wanted to get a shot off, so obviously we’re not happy with the last situation,” Maxi Kleber said. “But we learn from those mistakes. It wasn’t just about the last situation. We had several situations where we could have decided the game earlier. But obviously you want to get a shot off there to get a chance to win.”
The level of competition on the home stand rose markedly as the Nuggets brought the Western Conference’s second-best record to Dallas. They were on the finale of a five-game, 10-day road trip and were without Will Barton and Paul Millsap, two of their starters who were out.
That leveled the playing field somewhat, considering Kristaps Porzingis missed his fifth consecutive game for the Mavericks with a sore right knee.
In the end, the Mavericks had their chances to repeat their early season win in Denver, but couldn’t pull it off. The Mavericks dropped to 11-9 at AAC.
“We’ve got to be thinking ‘defense first’ all the time, especially at home,” Carlisle said. “We’ve done a better job of it on the road, but at home we’ve got to have more of an edge defensively.”
And, with regard to the absence of Porzingis, Carlisle didn’t want to harp on it.
“Sure, we miss him at both ends,” he said. “But until he’s back, there’s no point in talking about what we’re missing with him not being out there. A lot of teams are going through health issues right now, and he’s doing better all the time.
“There’s nothing imminent on him. He’s doing better. But until he’s back, we go with the guys we got and it’s next man up.”