The Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz are both hanging around the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race. The Mavericks are clinging to a seventh seed while the Jazz are trying to claw their way up from the 10th slot. The way they played Monday night in Utah, though, made you wish they had a chance of meeting each other in the first round. A tight, wonderfully played battle lasted three overtimes before Utah finally came out on top by a final score of 123-121.
The opening to the game wasn't anything special. Devin Harris hit a bunch of threes in the first quarter and Utah went up by double digits, but the Mavs chipped their way back into it behind Dirk Nowitzki's scoring and some big bench contributions from Jason Terry and Vince Carter. At that point in time, this recap was going to end up being several hundred words about Delonte West getting T'd up for jamming his finger in Gordon Hayward's ear.
And then things got reallllly exciting. The game remained close well into the fourth quarter. The Jazz held the edge late, but Vince Carter drilled a three to cut a four-point lead to one, then capitalized on some missed Utah free throws by drilling another one to take a two-point lead. Hayward missed a tough game-tying runner, but Paul Millsap zipped in from the weak side corner to dunk in the rebound as time expired. On to overtime.
The first of several overtime sessions was a beauty. Harris got rolling again and Millsap's baseline jumper put Utah up four with less than 30 seconds to go. Dallas, though, despite playing its second overtime game in as many nights, wasn't done. Terry put in a gritty and-one layup to cut into the lead, then, after Hayward hit a pair of free throws, Nowitzki freed himself with a brilliant pump fake and drilled a game-tying three with just a few seconds left. Al Jefferson rimmed out his tip off another Hayward runner (one wonders if the Jazz were just gunning for rebounds on those plays) and another extra session was needed.
In the second overtime, Terry kept drilling jumpers for Dallas while Jefferson responded for Utah. Instead of big shots, the period came down to some late blunders. Jefferson's jumper tied the game with under 30 seconds left, then the Mavs missed, Millsap blatantly traveled on a drive to the rim, and Nowitzki got stripped by DeMarre Carroll before he could make a game-winning attempt. Third overtime comin' up.
Finally, after 63 minutes of basketball, we got some closure. While the Mavericks started to falter, Harris, Jefferson, and Millsap all made big shots to put Utah ahead for good. All told, all five Utah starters scored 15 or more points, with Jefferson's monstrous 28-point, 26-rebound game leading the way. Nowitzki had 40 for the Mavericks and Terry contributed 27 off the bench, but the valiant effort just wasn't enough.
With the loss and a Denver win, Dallas fell firmly into the seventh seed at 34-28. Utah's win helped them keep pace with the winning Suns, and they sit just half a game out of the eighth seed.