DALLAS -- What a bummer before heading to the beach.
The Dallas Mavericks couldn’t have entered their extended All-Star break in much more miserable fashion.
The Mavs failed to protect a 15-point lead on Tuesday night against the Utah Jazz. They managed to give up a 3-pointer while leading by three in the final seconds of regulation. And they got beat by a Gordon Hayward buzzer-beater in overtime, the 121-119 loss marking the Mavs’ fourth defeat in five games.
“Honestly, I was just thinking, ‘How’d we lose the game?’” said Mavs center Zaza Pachulia, who switched onto Hayward on the final possession but couldn’t stop the Jazz star from hitting a tough step-back jumper. “Honest to God, did it really happen? We had so many opportunities to close the deal. We’d been controlling the game the whole night.
“I mean, it was crazy. Honestly, I have no answer [for] how we lost the game.”
Actually, there are dozens of plays the Mavs can point to throughout the course of the game. It came down to shots by big-money small forwards on the last two possessions of overtime: Dallas’ Chandler Parsons missing a good look at a 3 from the left wing, and Utah’s Hayward swishing his 2 from the left baseline.
But the extra period wouldn’t have been necessary if not for a regrettable coaching decision by Rick Carlisle on the final possession of regulation.
The Mavs led by three with 7.1 seconds remaining. A foul would have probably forced the Jazz to make the first free throw, miss the second and get a putback to tie it up.
But Carlisle opted not to call for the foul, not even when 62-percent free throw shooter Trey Lyles was dribbling the ball with his back to the basket about 16 feet from the hoop. Lyles dished to Rodney Hood, who drained a 3 from the left corner over a rotating Parsons with 1.9 seconds remaining.
Why not foul?
“It’s an easy question to ask after the fact,” Carlisle said. “We decided not to. We decided to switch it and make them make as difficult a shot as possible. They did. Give them credit.”
Carlisle acknowledged that “you can certainly second-guess” his decision in that situation. The Dallas players didn’t go that far, but a few noted that it’s not the first time that the Mavs have managed to give up a game-tying 3-pointer late. In fact, it happened with 23 seconds left on Saturday night in Memphis, although the Mavs pulled out an overtime win there.
“We’ve got to be smarter about it,” Pachulia said. “We’ve been in this situation so many times. We give up 3s and go into overtime. We just have to be smarter. Fouling is one of the options. We just have to be on the same page and make sure he doesn’t get a 3. It’s frustrating, real frustrating.”
Parsons, who led the Mavs with 24 points, agreed.
“[Fouling is] definitely an option that we might look at now," he said, "because it’s burned us a couple of times. Looking back now, it’s obviously hindsight. It’s easy to say, but it’s definitely an option that we should keep in our back pocket.”
Carlisle was surprisingly calm about the loss. He knows nobody needs a long break as much as the Mavs, who have several players fighting through significant aches and pains as they wrap up a grueling stretch of schedule after having played 23 games since the calendar flipped to 2016.
Carlisle made a point to praise the Mavs, saying he was disappointed with the loss but not the effort. He said he didn’t “give a s---” right now about Dallas’ record, which is 29-26 and the sixth best in the West, but only a game ahead of the Jazz.
Carlisle emphasized the positives, specifically noting that nobody expected Parsons and Wesley Matthews to perform as well as they have coming off of major surgeries or Raymond Felton to have this type of bounce-back season. He patted his players on the back as they left the American Airlines Center, where they won’t return until an afternoon practice on Feb. 17.
“We need this break; we need to get away,” Carlisle said. “I told the guys to enjoy break, get away from this game and not think about it.”
That will be a heck of a lot easier said than done.
“We can’t let that one slip, and we did,” Matthews said. “So we’ve got to let that eat at us, got to let it haunt us a little bit, and we’ve got to come back with the whole mind frame of winning and nothing but wins, by any means.”