The Dallas Mavericks were holding a 25-6 edge in the fourth quarter with seven minutes left. They were up 17 points with four-and-a-half minutes left. They were up 13 points with 3:21 left.
"We made some really bad mental mistakes,'' coach Rick Carlisle said following a stunning 129-127 loss. "As hard a lesson as you're going to have in this league.''
Carlisle is an teacher, so such "educational'' talk seems appropriate. But the "hard lessons'' are actually unlearned ones, as this marks the fourth time in this first-half season that Dallas has lost a game in which it held a 17-points-or better lead. That includes a Jan. 3 meeting with these Clippers at the AAC, in which the Mavs allowed them to close the game on a 16-2 run for an improbable victory.
The final improbable minutes this time?
*Vince Carter was assessed a technical as a result of Dallas picking on Blake Griffin. The Mavs seemed to be winning that Battle of The Psyches until the final tally, when the war was lost in part due to four T's being called on the Mavs in this game.
*Griffin and Sam Dalembert (terrific with 20 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes) wrestled for a rebound with Dallas up 125-115, and somehow Dalembert was the only one called for a technical. Griffin made the free throw and the Clippers retained possession. Jamal Crawford was allowed a layup, cutting Dallas' lead to to 125-118.
*Moments later, Dallas was up 127-118 when the despicable Matt Barnes hit a 3-pointer (one of his five on the way to 25 killer points) and on an ensuing possession Crawford rose for a 3. Officials whistled Dirk Nowitzki for a phantom foul, and Crawford made two of three from the line, pulling the Clippers to 127-123 with 1:10 to play.
*With 11 seconds left, the score was tied. Crawford darted into the lane for a jumper but was stripped by Shawn Marion -- but wait, another phantom call. Crawford made his two free throws.
*Dallas, trailing by two with three seconds left, inbounded from under its own basket (somehow, with all those clock stoppages, the Mavs still ran out of timeouts) but DeJuan Blair's baseball pass went nowhere near a Mav and was easily intercepted by the Clippers.
As you can see at the end of the NBA's official highlight reel above, the video people connected with the league feel obliged to bleep out what Mavs owner Mark Cuban said to the refs on the floor immediately following the game.
Cuban seemed very agitated and vocal as he moved onto the court at game's end. He reportedly told some media members that (paraphrasing) the officials "tried to take control but instead lost control.'' But assuming it is his view that "We Wuz Robbed,'' even if he's right it's the emptiest "right.''
Because a couple of questionable calls going against Dallas are as immaterial as two earlier Mavs games this season when the NBA says the wrong late-game call favored Dallas.
Who cares? Aren't the bigger issues J.J. Redick being allowed a career-high 33 points, Dirk having 27 but making just eight of 22 shots, Dallas missing eight of 21 free throws, Monta Ellis making a horrible choice on shot selection at the 40-second mark, and ultimately, Jose Calderon's inability to hit a fifth 3-pointer on a good look on Dallas' final true possession?
The 23-17 Mavs accomplished some solid things on the way to seeing their three-game win streak snapped. They outscored the Clippers 60-40 in the paint, and out-rebounded them 47-38, too. The "disposition'' was right even as the Mavs allowed a ridiculous 72 first-half points. ... though maybe the "disposition'' was so centered on not being bullied that Dallas distracted itself.
"It was like a playoff game the last three or four minutes,'' Marion said. "Everybody was mouthing back and forth and getting techs, and it became a brawl out there. But if you let that take away from what your main focus is -- executing at both ends of the floor -- then it's going to take you out of your game."
Ah, yes. Another bit of education for the taking. But the "hard lessons'' keep stacking up. When does the "easy learning of the hard lessons'' start kicking in?