The story of the Dallas Mavericks' 103-98 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night can't just be told from the box score. This might have been one of the strangest games of the NBA season.
Dallas came out pressuring the Trail Blazers, dominating Damian Lillard and trapping shooters when the ball swung to the corners. The result was that the Blazers made just four jumpers in the first half while Dallas jumped out to a 30-point lead. Shockingly, the Mavs called on their old standby Devin Harris to play the role of the hero late in the game. Scratching your head yet? It gets weirder.
Terry Stotts reacts to a foul call in the fourth quarter.
Portland came out in the second half gunning against a fierce defensive plan from Rick Carlisle, dominating the third quarter as LaMarcus Aldridge finally started to get going. The Blazers put Aldridge on the high left elbow and let him go to work, neutralizing the tough on-ball pressure from the Mavs.
On defense, the Blazers stole a page from Dallas by pestering ball handlers and actively switching on screens. Portland sold out on the first pass on offense, and the Mavericks failed to counter. Dallas would take nine more contested field goals in the game and after just eight minutes, the Blazers had made up the 30-point deficit to draw even at 67-67.
One of the craziest game flow charts you will ever see pic.twitter.com/f8wg7C3nOS— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) March 8, 2014
The strategy of selling out was working so well for Portland that Dallas decided to do the same in the fourth quarter. The Mavericks closed on every pass to the arc, never jumping at pump fakes and doubling Aldridge in the post. After an alley-oop between Mo Williams and Aldridge made it 98-92 in favor of Portland with 4:26 remaining, the Blazers wouldn't score again.
For four minutes, the Mavericks battled back, as Aldridge went ice cold down the stretch. Portland went to him on four straight possessions to end the game, but he just couldn't get a bucket. They remained in the lead until Devin Harris put in a layup on Damian Lillard that garnered a foul call and a three-point play. It was probably a no-call at best, given the circumstances and that Harris lowered his shoulder into the Blazer guard.
Coach Terry Stotts didn't think it was worthy of a whistle, telling Blazersedge:
"A charge or a no-call, yeah. It was [a big play]. I'm not going to complain about the officials. I disagree with the call. It was the play of the game, because it was a tie game and a three-point play - it changes everything."
With 17 seconds left, the Blazers had a chance to score or go for the tie with a three-pointer. As Nicolas Batum inbounded the ball to Aldridge in the high post, Lillard cut backdoor from the right arc but stopped on his run. Aldridge made the pass in anticipation of getting the star guard to the rack, and the ball bounced harmlessly out of bounds without Lillard even getting a finger on it.
So, Devin Harris, clutch hero, came through for the Mavericks when they needed it most. Portland decided to give their fans a more exciting way to lose, and folks in Dallas saw why their team hasn't been able to claw their way out of the bottom place in the Western Conference playoff race. The win-loss column technically gave the Mavericks a win, 103-98, but cosmically both these teams were losers on Friday.