Mavs still count on Terry in the clutch

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks proved they don't need Dirk Nowitzki to compete with an elite team Thursday night.

But they at least need some sort of contribution from their second-leading scorer to beat a contender while their MVP sports a suit and tie and nurses a sore right knee.

"They got nothing from me," Jason Terry said after the Mavs' hard-fought 99-93 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at American Airlines Center.

That was one of the few times Terry was on target all night. This is a man who scored eight points on 3-of-16 shooting and performed even worse than the box score indicates.

The man the Mavs consider their closer didn't score a point in the fourth quarter until knocking down a couple of 3-pointers in the final minute. Those shots came after the Spurs had pretty much sealed the win that extended their lead in the Western Conference standings to 3½ games above their Interstate 35 rivals.

Terry missed his previous 11 shots from the floor. When that happens, a 30-point performance by Caron Butler and the 106th triple-double of Jason Kidd's career are bound to go to waste.

"We still played hard and gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game," Terry said. "But we're not going to win many games if I don't do it without Dirk."

Furthermore, the Mavs won't win many, if any, playoff series if Terry can't be a consistent clutch counterpart for Nowitzki. That's been made painfully clear over the past four postseasons, when Terry's scoring numbers have steadily dipped while the Mavs earned their way out of the first round only once.

But the Mavs' belief in Terry is unshakable. For good reason. He usually delivers.

Terry is averaging 39.7 points per 48 clutch minutes this season, according to 82games.com's definition of crunch time. He annually ranks among the league leaders in scoring when games are tight in the final five minutes.

No matter what happens through three quarters, Terry flashes four fingers and feels like he's primed to take over. He's broken out of a scoring slumber to dominate the fourth quarter several times this season, highlighted by lighting it up in the final frame for all 19 of his points in a recent road win over the mega-hyped Miami Heat.

"We always believe that when we need a basket, he's going to knock one down for us," said Kidd, who had 12 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds. "We're going to get him the ball in position to be successful."

Terry got the ball in prime scoring position plenty of times Thursday night. He just couldn't find a way to put it in the hole, missing several shots he called easy.

"I just kept telling him in the second half and fourth quarter, 'Just keep playing your game and staying aggressive because you're going to break out of this,'" said coach Rick Carlisle, who was criticized for playing an ice-cold Terry instead of red-hot Rodrigue Beaubois in the season-ending Game 6 loss to the Spurs in April. "Just keep believing. And it's as simple as that."

Added Terry: "I was thinking the same thing: Be aggressive and make it happen. Obviously it didn't, but that's one out of 10 times."

It's actually two straight games. Terry was shut out the final 8:29 during Tuesday's loss to the Toronto Raptors.

That's still not enough to consider it a trend. And the Mavs certainly don't consider it a sign of trouble. It'll take a lot more than that to rattle their confidence in their closer.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.