TORONTO – If the Mavericks needed to be brought back to earth after their impressive success on the road so far this season, the Toronto Raptors made sure it was a quick, stunning, crash-landing at rock bottom.
Coasting along with a 30-point lead late in the third quarter, the Mavericks inexplicably let their foot off the gas pedal and the Raptors came to life.
What ensued was a crazy meltdown the likes of which the Mavericks have seen only one other time in franchise history.
The Raptors got hot, mucked up the game with a trapping zone that befuddled the Mavericks, then stole a 110-107 victory that snapped the seven-game road winning streak Dallas had coming into Canada.
You have to go back to 2002 to find a game rivaling this sort of collapse for the Mavericks. They owned an 85-55 lead with just over two minutes to go in the third quarter. Then, in what seemed like a blink, they were holding on for dear life and ultimately, couldn’t hang on.
They were outscored 55-22 in the final 14:10.
It was Dec. 6, 2002, when the Mavericks had a 66-36 lead over the Lakers in Los Angeles early in the third quarter before Kobe Bryant led a rally that pushed LA to a 105-103 win.
This time might have been more incredible, simply because the 30-point lead came much later in the third quarter. The Raptors had to pitch a shutout the rest of the way. And the Mavericks had to help them out.
Both things happened. And the Mavericks limped home having gone 1-1 on this quick trip that started in Philadelphia, but knowing that it could have, and probably should have, been so much better.
“Very disappointing loss,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I take full responsibility for it. We got to a point where we lost our aggression. Give them credit. They did a great job with the trap. But we didn’t respond well enough to it and that’s on me.
“It’s pretty clear what happened. It’s an aggression thing. Give them credit. Give their fans credit. They kept a lot of energy going. But when you get hit with that kind of force, you have to respond with equal or greater force and we just didn’t do it soon enough.”
The Raptors’ comeback started with a 3-pointer by Kyle Lowry with 2 minutes left in the third quarter. Lowry would end up with 32 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. He had 20 points in the fourth quarter when the Raptors erupted for 47, 26 more than the Mavericks, who had seven turnovers, five of them on Toronto steals, during the final 12 minutes.
And that’s why it came down to the bitter end as Toronto, led Lowry, took a 106-102 lead with just over a minute to go.
The Mavericks scored the next five points on a three-point play by Jalen Brunson and two free throws from Kristaps Porzingis. But Raptors got a cutting dunk from Chris Boucher with 25.8 seconds left.
After a timeout, the Mavericks tried to run a play for Porzingis, but the ball ended up in Brunson’s hands with a wide-open look from 18 feet. The ball refused to go down and the Raptors got two free throws to clinch it with under 2 seconds left.
“It goes in 99 percent of the time,” Brunson said.
This time, it didn’t and the Mavericks knew they’d let a game get away that they had no business losing.
“They’re defending champs for a reason,” Brunson said. “They may have lost a great player (Kawhi Leonard). But those guys don’t quit. They don’t stop playing. They made plays out of the press. And we just got to stay aggressive in that situation. We gave up a lot of points. We got to keep scoring.”
But the Mavericks could never get the momentum back.
The Mavericks were down a key man with Luka Doncic, but the Raptors were missing Pascal Siakim, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell, three of their best players. That’s what made this loss so exasperating.
And while Carlisle was quick to fall on the sword for the Mavericks’ collapse, that wasn’t the problem as far as the players were concerned.
“That’s B.S.,” Tim Hardaway said. “It should leave a sour taste in our mouth moving forward. We know we should have had the win. But you have to credit them. Their bench guys did a phenomenal job of coming in and giving them a spark. Hats off to them.
“All I know is they were just taking it to us. Before you knew it, they cut the lead to 10, cut the lead to five . . . and there was no turning back from there.”