DALLAS (105.3 THE FAN) — A gutty 109-102 overtime victory over the Clippers late Tuesday night pulls Dallas to within one game of the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference.
“It’s a good time to be playing your best basketball of the season,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 33 points to out-duel Chris Paul and to help his Mavs do just that.
After the win over the Utah Jazz, Dallas point guard Mike James stood in the locker room and reminded all within earshot that, “We have a small heartbeat, but we have a heartbeat … Keep hope alive. That’s our motto.”
The heartbeat grows larger. So does the hope.
Dallas — coming in having just one win in 13 tries against the top five teams in the West — is closing in on being a top-eight club in the conference.
The NBA highlight reel:
Tuesday’s outing was a game of runs as neither squad ever gained a double-digit advantage in a contest that featured 14 lead changes and 14 ties.
It was also a game that featured two superstars performing at their peak, with both Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Paul scoring 33 points, both season-highs.
For Paul, his was a freakishly-efficient night, needing only 15 shots to net his 33 points, while also dishing out five assists and grabbing six rebounds. However, his effort would be marred by seven turnovers and he seemed to struggle at times with Dallas’ trapping defense.
“It was grit and guts,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle on defending Paul, an effort that late in the game also featured one-on-one work from Shawn Marion. “It was like Russian Roulette out there because when you go chasing Chris Paul around you leave a lot of guys open for shots. So, we gambled and won.”
Nowitzki, on the other hand, would need a season-high-tying 21 shot attempts (making 12) to reach his 33 points.
Eventually, he outscored the entire Clippers team in overtime, scoring eight points to Los Angeles’ five in the extra frame.
Dallas also did an excellent job keeping the high-flying Blake Griffin in check, holding him to just six points in the final four periods (counting OT) after he’d scored eight in the first quarter alone.
Tuesday night also marked Lamar Odom’s first game in Dallas since his much-maligned stint with the Mavericks last season. He was booed lustily each time he touched the ball or was shown on the JumboTron. The ex-Mav would finish the night with six points and six rebounds.
“I’ve played in really hostile environments all my life,” Odom said. “You got to expect that. That’s what we love about sports.”
Aside from Nowitzki (who passed Patrick Ewing’s 24,815 points for 17th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list), Dallas also enjoyed five other players scoring in double figures, led by Vince Carter’s 14. Darren Collison added 13 points and quarterbacked the Dallas attack in overtime after Mike James fouled out near the end of regulation.
James, for his part, played a strong game given his unenviable task of checking the nearly-unstoppable Paul, scoring 11 points, and dishing out six assists while only committing one turnover. Brandan Wright also added 11 points. And without O.J. Mayo’s regulation-closing, game-knotting whirl to the hoop vs. a double-team in the corner — a seemingly impossible shot — the game never makes it to OT.
After that came another near possibility …
Some praise is also due to Elton Brand, whose eight points and five rebounds belie his true contribution to this game as he helped keep the Clippers athletic front line in check. He would also notch a game-high four blocks.
Despite all that has gone wrong for the Mavericks this season, at 35-36 and with nine wins in 12 games, they still have the ability to determine much of their postseason fate. They will still need a bit of help, but like Nowitzki said afterwards, “It’s a good time to be playing your best basketball of the season.”
With the win, hope is very much alive, but much remains to be done.
“Our work,” Carlisle said, “has just begun.”
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