PHOENIX – The stars were aligned just right for the Dallas Mavericks. They had a seemingly comfortable 22-point lead early in the third quarter of Wednesday’s regular season opener, and appeared well on their way to cruising to a relatively easy victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Then the bottom fell out. Completely out.

The Suns got hot, the Mavs fell apart on both ends of the court and Phoenix found a way to eke out an improbable 107-105 win before a sellout crowd of 17,071 at the Footprint Center. It was a bitter defeat for the Mavs, who had control for the majority of the night, but let things slip away during the game’s clutch moments.

“We blew the lead,” said Luka Doncic, who finished with 35 points, nine rebounds and six assists. “I think we relaxed a little bit.

“It’s a lot of points, we’re going to get there, we’re going to win. We can’t be blowing leads.”

Damion Lee nailed a game-winning baseline jumper with 9.7 seconds left, and Doncic misfired on a long three-pointer at the buzzer in wrapping up a frustrating night for the Mavs.

LukaOn the strength of 20 first-half points from Doncic, the Mavs led 62-45 at the half and built that to 67-45 early in the third quarter. But the Suns chipped away, helped mainly by getting in the bonus less than five minutes into the second half.

With the Mavs committing one foul after another, that led to a long parade to the free throw line by the Suns in the third quarter and enabled them to get within 81-76 of Dallas after three periods. From there, it was game on.

“I think the biggest thing is we were in the bonus early there in the third,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We talked about it at the half that we knew they were going to come, (Devin) Booker was coming, and they did.

“Our switch attack offense wasn’t up to par. We’ll watch it and see where we can get better.”

It was a total collapse by the Mavs as, after limiting the Suns to just 45 points in the first half, Phoenix poured in 31 points in the third quarter and added another 31 points in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, the Mavs crippled themselves by converting just 21-of-34 free throws.

“We talked about (free throws) after the last preseason game,” Kidd said. “If you’re going to get there 30-plus times, you can’t make 21 and shoot 61 percent.

“You can’t win and you can’t be an elite team in this league if you’re not going to make free throws. But it’s a good sign that we’re getting to the line.”

Spencer Dinwiddie (15 points) having to go to the bench after picking up his fourth foul 24 seconds into the second half didn’t help matters for the Mavs.

“That put us in a bind and put a little bit more stress on LD to have to run the offense without having that second ball handler out there,” Kidd said. “But we won’t make that as an excuse.

“We’ve got plenty of guys over there that can carry the load, but with Spencer out that just kind of took us out of rhythm there.”Luka

New center Christian Wood was certainly in rhythm from the field as he converted 9-of-15 shots (4-of-7 three-pointers) while embracing his role of coming off the bench. And when Wood tallied 16 consecutive points – including a trio of three-pointers – the Mavs were nursing a 93-78 lead with just 8:30 remaining.

“I felt like I fit in great,” Wood said. “The guys were going to me, they trust me with the ball, Luka trusts me with the ball, and I was making good reads.”

Wood, though, was critical of himself for missing seven of his 10 free throw attempts.

“We just didn’t close the game out,” Wood said. “I think the big thing for us is we got a 20-point lead and we got a little complacent.

“We missed a lot of free throws and that really cost us the game, especially me. That’s kind of inexcusable to miss seven free throws.”

Everything came so easy for the Mavs in the first half it was as if they were about to duplicate Game 7 of last season’s Western Conference semifinals when they blew out the Suns, 123-90, in this building.

“The way we played on defense, they scored 45 points in the first half, which was amazing,” Doncic said. “Then they scored 31 in the third quarter and 31 in the fourth.

“We just can’t relax. We’ve got to play hard no matter what the score is. We just got to play the same.”

A three by Lee and a free throw from Booker after Doncic was assessed a technical foul put the Suns ahead, 105-100, with 1:38 left. On his Scrumtechnical foul, Doncic thought it wasn’t warranted, saying: “I was trying to pass the ball to the ref. He was right there. I didn’t expect a technical for that.”

Doncic made amends as he scored the game’s ensuing five points, including a massive three-point play that knotted things at 105 with 32.8 seconds remaining. Then came the heroics from Lee.

“It’s the first game,” Doncic said. “We have a couple of new guys, it’s 81 games to go and we’re going to get it right.

“We know how to build the leads, so we’ve got to learn from it.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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