This NBA season is still in diapers, but the Mavericks already felt some nasty growing pains Sunday night.
Their promising young duo took a hard dose of reality from one of the most dangerous tandems in the NBA. Their first loss of the season after two victories also featured one of the league’s first coach’s challenge to have a direct impact on the possible outcome of the game.
And, in the end, they got a harsh reminder that when you live by the 3-pointer, you also can perish by it.
The Mavericks got run down in the second half as Portland rode the hot hands of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum for a 121-119 victory. Lillard and McCollum combined for 63 points. On this night, they were just a little better than better than Luka Doncic and Kristaps, who ironically combined for 61 points, two fewer than the Blazers’ duo.
That coincidentally was the difference in the final score.
The Mavericks had all sorts of self-inflicted wounds. They shot just 13-for-50 from 3-point range. In the fourth quarter, when there were 11 lead changes, they were just 1-of-14 from 3-point land.
They also missed five of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter.
“Free throws, you got to make those,” Porzingis said. “There’s nothing to say about that. There’s so many things in the game, so many things we can get better at. That’s the good thing about it. We have so much room to grow as a group.
“And we were right there to beat a very experienced playoff type of team. I think we’re on the right path. We just want to keep going.”
The Mavericks thought they had a chance to win this game in the final seconds. The Blazers had taken a 120-119 lead when Lillard got by Doncic on a drive and converted a difficult layup with 26.8 seconds left.
The Mavericks worked the ball to Doncic, who missed a 26-foot step-back 3-pointer. In the scramble for the rebound, Dorian Finney-Smith was fouled by Lillard.
However, Portland coach Terry Stotts used the coach’s challenge rule, new this season, to get the call reviewed. After a lengthy look at the video, the referees decided to reverse the call.
Since the reversal resulted in an inadvertent whistle, a jump ball at center court was the ruling. Porzingis won the tip, but he said he hit it too hard, which is why it went straight to the Blazers’ Kent Bazemore, who was quickly fouled. His free throw accounted for the final score and Tim Hardaway’s 30-foot 3-pointer missed at the buzzer.
“It was a wild game, start to finish,” Mavericks’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “A lot of crazy swings all over the place. (At the end) there was a shot, Dorian got the rebound. He went up, there was a foul called, it was challenged and reversed … We didn’t do a good enough job. It just comes down to that. We’re a team that’s got things to work on. Pretty simple.”
Finney-Smith, is not an outspoken player by nature, but he explained his view of what happened on the fateful play.
“I was thinking: knock these (free-throw) shots in and get a stop,” he said. “I didn’t really think it wasn’t a foul. But it is what it is. They overturned it. You just got to deal with it.”
Asked about whether the foul was on the rebound or as he gathered himself to either make a shot or a pass, Finney-Smith said: “He fouled me on the rebound. He had to come across my arm. And he also had his right hand on my hip.
“They’re the same calls he gets. I probably should have just sold it a little more. But it is what it is. We just didn’t get it done. We won’t make any excuses.
“I’ve never seen a call be overturned. It felt like a football game a little bit. But that’s why they put the rules in. Tonight it was on their side.”
The Mavericks had plenty of other moments when they could have avoided a photo finish like the one that played out.
But no matter what they did, they couldn’t come up with ways to slow down Lillard and McCollum.
“Those guys have been top players in the league for many years already and they have the playoff experience,” Porzingis said of Portland’s guards, who led the Blazers to the Western Conference finals last season. “They know how to close out games maybe better than we do right now. We’re still very young.”