They couldn’t even get the ball to their go-to guy when they had a chance to win the game. Heck, the Mavs couldn’t get the ball inbounds, period. And unlike the New Orleans Pelicans on the previous possession, the Mavs didn’t get any assistance from a whistle.
Those final 12.3 seconds, when Murphy’s Law seemed to strike the Mavs, made Sunday’s 109-106 loss especially tough to swallow. It also meant Ellis’ 36 points went to waste.
“I thought it was breathtaking,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of Ellis’ outing. “It was just a great performance. It was just unfortunate that we couldn’t get the ball in his hands on the last possession.”
Added Ellis: “We didn’t win, so it doesn’t matter.”
Ellis, who was 16-of-27 from the floor, twice gave the Mavs a one-point lead with driving layups in the final minute.
But the Pelicans went ahead for good when star power forward Anthony Davis hit a pair of free throws with 12.3 seconds remaining, after referee Leon Wood called a foul on Tyson Chandler that prompted much complaining from the Mavs. Chandler attempted to deny an inbounds pass to Davis when he was called for the foul about 30 feet from the basket.
“The difference in the game was the whistles, really, the calls that were made,” Carlisle said. “Sometimes, that’s how it goes.”
Dirk Nowitzki described the foul call as “a tough one” and said that kind of contact happens at least 20 times per game.
“Especially down the stretch, there’s always some holding going on -- always,” Nowitzki said. “That’s part of being physical out there, especially down the stretch. I haven’t seen a whistle like that in a while, but nothing’s going to be given to us on the road. We still had enough chances.”
The Mavs had a chance to win on the next possession, when everyone in the Smoothie King Center knew Dallas wanted to put the ball in the hands of Ellis, whose 94 clutch points this season lead the league, according to NBA.com’s statistics.
“I was ready for it,” Ellis said. “I love those moments.”
The Pelicans were ready for it too. The combination of New Orleans’ stifling defense and a mental blunder by the Mavs prevented Dallas from successfully inbounding the ball -- twice.
With New Orleans double-teaming Ellis, inbounds passer Chandler Parsons still attempted to give the shooting guard the ball, but it was deflected out of bounds. Point guard Rajon Rondo then decided to replace Parsons as the inbounds passer, a role Parsons has played all season. With no timeouts and nobody open, Rondo was forced to throw a risky pass to Nowitzki, which Davis intercepted.
“That’s an easy play where you call a timeout, but we didn’t have another one left, so we kind of had to throw it up,” Nowitzki said. “It’s hard to lob it up over one of the longest guys in the league.”
The simple solution would have been for Ellis to bolt into the backcourt to catch the ball. However, Ellis incorrectly thought it would have been a backcourt violation, which made him much easier to cover.
“It’s on me because I’ve got to make sure I remind our guys that we can throw it in the backcourt,” Carlisle said. “Monta was trying to catch it in the frontcourt and just ran out of space, so we ended up in a scrambled possession, and Davis intercepted the ball. That’s my responsibility.”
Said Ellis: “As players, you have to know as well that you’re able to get backcourt. I forgot about it. There’s no one to blame.”
After Davis pushed the Pelicans’ lead to three by hitting another pair of free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining, Ellis had a chance to send the game into overtime.
But it wasn’t much of a chance: His 27-foot runner didn’t even hit the rim, so his 36 points before that didn’t matter.