DALLAS – Over and over again, O.J. Mayo has accepted accountability for his prominent role in the Mavericks’ late-game woes.
It’s gotten to the point that Mayo seems to have run out of words while standing up and answering questions in the locker room after a close loss.
“I’ve just to take care of the ball better,” Mayo said after coughing up two critical turnovers in the final 23.9 seconds of Monday’s 105-100 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
That, unfortunately, is a major understatement.
Mayo’s poor ball security in crunch time isn’t the only reason the Mavs have had such a miserable time closing games this season, but it’s a pretty good place to start the list. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Mayo has been the NBA’s sloppiest ball-handler with games on the line this season.
The painful facts, according to the NBA’s advanced stats: Mayo leads the league in turnovers when the score is within one possession in the final two minutes of games this season. And the final minute in such situations. And the final 30 seconds. And the final 10 seconds.
Making matters worse, Mayo’s turnover rate gets progressively higher as the clock ticks down in close games. He has eight turnovers in the final two minutes of one-possession games, a span of 48 minutes. Six of those have come in the final minute of games (11.5 per 48 minutes), five have come in the final 30 seconds (18.5 per 48 minutes) and three have come in the final 10 seconds (28.8 per 48 minutes).
“We’re going to continue to work at it,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “This has been an unusual year for him. He’s had to learn an awful lot because he’s been thrust into the position of being the leading scorer and one of our important playmakers. And so you’re going to have some of these situations.
“The thing I love about O.J. is that he’s resilient and he’s prideful and he bounces back. He’ll bounce back.”
The hope is that Mayo learns from his mistakes. He has earned the respect of his teammates with his attitude and work ethic, enduring harsh film sessions with Carlisle and frequently picking the brains of veterans such as Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki who have significant closing experience.
“He’s a winner,” said Carter, the target of Mayo's errant pass that essentially sealed the Mavs' loss to the Hawks. “He wants to win. He hates to lose. Sometimes I think he’ll do too much for that reason, because he just wants to win. There again, that’s the beauty of having film and being able to see the good and the bad and learn from that.”
Yes, there has been a lot of good from Mayo in crunch time this season. In fact, only Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Garnett have scored more clutch points than Mayo’s 87, using the NBA’s definition of the final five minutes when the score is within five points.
Mayo’s final-minute scoring numbers in one-possession games: 22 points on 6-of-8 shooting in 25 minutes.
As Nowitzki works his ways back into form, the Mavs can and should run their crunch-time offense through the future Hall of Famer much more often. However, they need Mayo to at least be an effective complementary threat, meaning that he’ll continue to have decision-making duties down the stretch, much like Jason Terry over the previous eight years. (Terry, by the way, had only five turnovers in the final minute of one-possession games over his last six seasons with the Mavs.)
“He’s one of our really important scorers, so the ball’s going to be in his hands,” Carlisle said. “And he’s going to have to make decisions. He’s going to have to do it.
“He’s gotten so much better that a night like (Monday) night can tend to cloud that and skew it to some degree. But he’s a young player that loves the game. He’s a competitor and he wants these challenges. That’s why he came here.
“My job is to make sure that he gets better and not just take those challenges and responsibilities off his plate. That would not be doing our team or him justice.”