Dallas Mavericks flunk first crunch-time test

DALLAS -- The first glimpse of the revamped Dallas Mavericks in a crunch-time situation was absolute agony to watch.

That probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

After all, this group has had precious little playing time together, considering newcomers Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews sat out all but half a game in the preseason and missed the middle contest of the three-game road trip to open the regular season. Plus, hopeful clutch go-to guy Chandler Parsons was forced to watch the second half from the bench, following a strict minutes restriction as he returns from hybrid microfracture surgery on his right knee.

So some crunch-time problems for the Mavs, who relied heavily on the dismissively departed Monta Ellis in such situations last season, were pretty predictable. But a mess this sloppy? My goodness.

The Toronto Raptors ruined Dallas’ home opener and pulled away for a 102-91 win Tuesday because the Mavs melted down midway through the fourth quarter.

The Mavs managed to score a grand total of one bucket -- a 3-pointer by Devin Harris -- during a stretch of more than five minutes that started with the score tied and ended with coach Rick Carlisle pulling the plug with 1:09 remaining. Not even Dirk Nowitzki could deliver down the stretch, missing his last three shots after hitting six of his first seven.

The Raptors outscored the Mavs by a 20-3 margin during that misery, when Dallas missed 10 shots from the floor and committed a couple of turnovers.

The Mavs felt like they had a few good looks during that clutch debacle, but it wasn’t pretty.

“We’re still trying to figure things out and it showed tonight,” said Williams, the point guard who finished with 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting, including three misses during the crunch-time crisis. “We were able to get away with it [in wins] against the Lakers and the Suns, but this is a different level of a team. They just did a great job of exposing some of that.”

Carlisle prefers to call as few plays as possible, rather relying on the Mavs to run a free-flowing, fast-moving style of offense. Well, there weren’t many plays called, but the Mavs’ offense moved about as swiftly and gracefully as a drunken heavyweight mud wrestling match down the stretch.

“They turned it into a boxing match,” Carlisle said. “We needed it to be a basketball game. We need to be a little tougher.”

The challenge for the Mavs is certainly tough enough. This was a classic case of a game in which some Carlisle play calls could have helped the Mavs when they were starving to see the ball go in the bucket.

However, his options are pretty limited. That’s life when the starting five has only had a handful of practices together.

“It’s no question that this is an uphill battle for us right now,” said Matthews, who had eight points on 3-of-7 shooting and missed a couple of crunch-time looks. “This isn’t going to be easy. I think we have to remind ourselves of that from time to time. Had everybody been healthy, we’d probably have more sets in, we’d probably have more stuff in, more specific plays for specific people.”

One of the specific people the Mavs might want to run plays for at critical points in the game was unavailable in the second half. That’s part of the plan for Parsons, whose is supposed to be restricted to 12 minutes but played 14 in the first half, scoring nine points on 3-of-6 shooting.

Then Parsons put on his warmups and watched the rest of the game from the bench.

“To watch in the second half these close games where I could be in there helping is the most frustrating point,” Parsons said. “Just sitting there helpless and just watching my team struggle in the fourth quarter, I feel like I should be out there and I want to be out there so bad, but that’s going to be the toughest part for me.”

The Mavs plan to gradually increase Parsons’ minutes, but the current restriction will be in place for an unspecified time.

Unless …

Parsons openly wondered whether the Mavs would be better off with him sitting out the first half instead of the second. It’s something he’ll probably discuss with Carlisle on Wednesday.

“I’ve got to find a way to be playing in the fourth quarter really,” Parsons said.

It definitely wasn’t any fun to watch.