That heavy foot the Dallas Mavericks planted firmly on the gas when they beat Denver by 28 points on Friday night was sorely missing Sunday night when the Mavs hosted the Nuggets for the second time in three days at American Airlines Center.
Michael Porter Jr. nailed the game-winning three-pointer with 55.6 seconds remaining as the Nuggets regrouped and hung on to upset the Mavs, 98-97, before a sellout crowd of 20,244. The Mavs (9-7) had a chance to win the game in the end, but a long three-pointer by Luka Doncic hit the rim and fell harmlessly away as time expired.
Josh Green led the Mavs with a career-high 23 points, Doncic finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, Davis Bertans scored 15 points in 14 minutes, Spencer Dinwiddie 11 contributed 11 points and eight assists, and Dwight Powell added 11 points and five boards.
Bones Hyland came off the bench to lead Denver with 29 points, Porter scored 14 points, and Bruce Bowen collected 12 points and eight assists.
This completes a period where the Mavs played 10 of their last 12 games at home, and posted a 7-3 record at home during those 10 games. Now the Mavs will embark on a three-game road trip starting Wednesday in Boston and continuing with games Saturday in Toronto and Nov. 27 in Milwaukee before they return home to host the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Nov. 29.
The Mavs had a 97-93 lead with 1:59 left after Doncic twice hit Powell for a pair of baskets. But a strange set of circumstances occurred after that when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope collided with Dinwiddie, sending Dinwiddie to the floor clutching his left shoulder and writhing in pain.
As play continued — and in order to get a substitute in for Dinwiddie — Powell intentionally fouled Hyland, who went to the line and buried two free throws as Denver trimmed the Mavs’ lead to 97-95. Porter then hit the game-winning three-pointer as the Mavs saw another very winnable game slip away.
The Nuggets were without their top two players – Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray – both who are sidelined while in the health and safety protocols. But coach Jason Kidd knew his team could ill afford to take their foot off the gas just because an opponent was without their best player(s).
“Understanding there’s guys out, but they have guys over there that can put the ball in the basket,” coach Jason Kidd said before the game. “We don’t have that luxury to relax.
“We relaxed here in the past when the stars were out, and we tend to find ourselves with an L. We have to stay hungry.”
Kidd was referencing three other frustrating games earlier this year which all ended up in losses for the Mavs when the opponent was missing one, two or three of their top players.
*On 25, the Mavs played New Orleans, who were without three starters – including Zion Williamson and All-Star forward Brandon Ingram. The Pelicans won that game, 113-111.
*On Nov. 9 the Mavs played Orlando, who were without their leading scorer and Rookie of the Year candidate – Paolo Banchero. The Magic prevailed over the Mavs, 94-87.
*And on Nov. 10, the Mavs played Washington, who were without their top two scorers – Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. The Wizards won that game, 113-105.
That trend happened again Sunday, much to the chagrin of the Mavs, who also fell victim to something rarely seen in the NBA. It was a very weird sequence which happened that caught fans and perhaps both teams off-guard.
Doncic drained a gut-check three-pointer at the halftime buzzer that put the Mavs ahead, 59-52. But officials reviewed the play, and after both teams were in the locker room, it was announced that Doncic stepped out of bounds with two seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Thus, after all of the halftime festivities were over, the game continued with two seconds left in the second quarter, with the Nuggets maintaining possession. From there, Denver’s Vlatko Cancar drilled a dramatic shot past the halfcourt line that effectively was a six-point swing and got the Nuggets officially within 56-55 of the Mavs at intermission and clearly shifting the momentum in Denver’s direction.
“Eventually, it worked out for them,” Bertans said. “It takes three points off of us, and then with them hitting the three-point shot.
“That’s a six-point swing at the start of the second half. It definitely gives them the upper hand to start the half.”
It was a demoralizing turn of events for the Mavs, who saw Doncic doing a shimmy after connecting on what he thought would send Dallas into the dressing room with a 59-52 advantage.
“All threes are reviewed (at the NBA headquarters in New Jersey) and they reviewed it and (Doncic) was out of bounds, so they have to pick up play,” coach Jason Kidd said. “But everybody had gone in (to the dressing room) for halftime, so they have to play the two seconds and play it out from there and then we start the third quarter.
“With review and replay, that’s the first that I’ve seen we have halftime, then we come back and finish the second quarter and then start the third. The league is trying to get all the calls right.”
The Nuggets went on to outscore the Mavs, 24-18, in the third quarter and carried a 79-74 lead into the final period, as Dallas had problems containing Hyland, who was 10-of-22 from then field and also added six assists.
Denver built a 76-66 lead with 2:03 to go in the third quarter following a fast break layup by Christian Braun. Green drained his first eight shots – six of them from behind the three-point line – that prevented the Nuggets from completely getting away from the Mavs.
And along with the hot shooting by Bertans, who was 5-of-7 from the field — including 4-of-5 from three-point range — the Mavs dug deep and momentarily re-gained control during the game’s late stages.
“I know I haven’t been shooting the best the last four games,” Green said. “Yeah, they were misses, but was I happy with how they looked, so for me it’s just coming out and just continue to shoot them.
“My goal is to just to try to come into the game and bring energy and try to shift the game a little bit, and they went in.”
Obviously, the three-pointer launched by Cancar — a teammate of Doncic’s on the Slovenian National Team — stunned the Mavs and was a shot of adrenalin for the Nuggets.
“He makes the three, but we still have the lead,” Kidd said. “We just came out flat in that third.
“Myself, we’ve got to be better. We came out flat and they took advantage of that and took control of the game, but we fought back and put ourselves in position to win at the end.”
Commenting on the losses to the short-handed Pelicans, Magic, Wizards and Nuggets that cost the Mavs four games in the standings, Green was reflective in explaining those heart-stopping setbacks.
“A game is a game,” he said. “We still try to keep the same mindset. The only thing that really changes is our scout.
“I think for us it’s just taking the games very serious and going into every game with the same goal of winning. No matter who’s on the court – it could be a high school team – I’m still trying to win.”