In the most critical game of the season so far, the most clutch plays continued to befuddle the Mavericks.

And controversy reared its head, too.

The Mavericks could not put the clamps on Steph Curry with the game on the line as he darted to the basket for a layup with 8.5 seconds left to provide the winning points as Golden State scored an important 127-125 victory Wednesday night at American Airlines Center.

The Mavericks have had late-game issues on plenty of occasions this season and they have found many different ways to come up empty.

“We’ve gotten no looks to great looks,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We just have to stay positive, stay together, understanding that hopefully that will change as we go forward. We’ve been in a lot of close games, defensively and offensively, and we haven’t had success.”

With playoff positioning and tiebreakers at stake, the Mavericks were down 123-122 with under a minute to go. They had a chance to go ahead, but Luka Dončić, who played superbly in his first game back from a thigh injury, was forced into a difficult three-point try that did not come close.

The Warriors got the ball to Curry on the right wing. The Mavericks tried to trap him, but Curry slithered out of it and made a bee line to the basket for a three-point Golden State lead with 8.5 showing.

The Mavericks went for a quick two points, but Luka’s drive rimmed out and the Warriors rebounded converted free throws to seal the win. To say the least, the last two possessions did not go as the Mavericks had hoped.

But a controversial play late in the third quarter was even more vexing for them.

After Anthony Lamb missed a three-pointer, the ball apparently was rebounded by Kevon Looney. But there was confusion on who actually had possession. After a timeout, and with all the Mavericks on their offensive end expecting to have the ball, the Warriors were allowed to inbound the ball for an easy dunk for Looney.

Mavericks’ governor Mark Cuban said he plans to file an official protest with the NBA, which he has 48 hours to do.

Here’s what the owner had to say via Twitter after the game:

“For those wondering about the play with 1:54 to go (in the third quarter), let me explain what happened. The ref called Mavs ball. The announcer announced it. Then there was a timeout. During the time out the official changed the call and never told us. Then when they saw us line up as if it were our ball, he just gave the ball to the warriors. Never said a word to us. They got an easy basket. Crazy that it would matter in a two-point game. Worst officiating non-call mistake possibly in the history of the NBA. All they had to do was tell us and they didn’t.”

The referees issued a statement that crew chief Sean Wright gave to a pool reporter, which read: “Initially on the floor the original signal was in fact Golden State ball as this can be seen on video. There is a second signal but that signal is for a mandatory timeout that was due to the Mavs.”

To say the least, it was a confusing moment for all involved, but ultimately costly to the Mavericks.

“It was kind of weird,” Dončić said. “I think the refs, the first time, they called it correctly. In those situations, like when they group up to see who shoots free throws, they (should) group up and they could have waited. In this situation, you just got to group up and clear it up.”

“I was surprised. I didn’t know what was going on. I’ve never seen that happen.”

Meanwhile, it was a welcomed sight to see Dončić back on the floor.

“Good, a little better than I expected,” he said when asked how he felt. “I’m ready. In the fourth quarter, I was a little tired for one minute, but there were a couple free throws, so I got my breath back. It was good.”

Unfortunately, the outcome put a damper on things.

“The mood is not good, obviously,” Dončić said. “Every time you lose, it’s bad. But we got to focus on what’s next. We lost this game. We got to go on to the next one.”

The third-quarter play left everybody in a foul mood. And coach Jason Kidd said he felt it was easily fixable.

“There was a lot of confusion,” Kidd said. “A lot of people were out of position. The court was split. We’re on one side and the Warriors were on the other. And you have a referee on the baseline, Mike (Smith) was on the baseline, so I would assume Mike thought it was our ball, too.

“If there’s confusion, it’s easy to just come in and blow the whistle and get us re-started. Because there was confusion, understanding that it was our ball. The referee pointed toward our bench, but that was a signal of the timeout. But there was confusion on the play before it even started with who’s ball it was because he pointed to us first and then changed it. And it went to a timeout and he pointed to us. There were quite a few people out of position on that play.”

It was that kind of night.

Then, at the end, there were blunders at both ends that cost the Mavericks.

“You look at being able to try to corral Curry, it’s not easy,” Kidd said. “He made a play by driving it. Then the read that Luka and Reggie (Bullock) had was the right read. We’ll take the quick two and play the free-throw game. It just didn’t go down for us.”

The loss puts the Mavericks in a difficult spot – but not an impossible one.

They are 36-37 and have lost the tiebreaker to the 38-36 Warriors. So essentially, they are two games behind in the loss column behind Golden State.

The outcome dampened Dončić’s returned from a left thigh strain. He finished with 30 points and 17 assists. The Mavericks also got terrific production from rookie Jaden Hardy, who had 27 points and helped the Mavericks erase an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit.

The Mavericks came into the game eighth in the Western Conference and fell lower in the standings with the loss. Avoiding the play-in tournament now will require stringing together some victories in the final nine games.

Twitter: @ESefko


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