Dallas rallied late and Kobe Bryant missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer as the Mavs won Game 1
LOS ANGELES — The Mavericks will be glad to have that composure conversation, now that they survived the longest seven-tenths of a second in team history, now that, in the end, they did a lot more than survive Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
They were on the road, in the third different city in as many outings, facing an opponent that knows all about winning in the clutch, and were down 16 points early in the third quarter and heading toward a blowout loss. Worst of all for the Mavericks, they were coming unhinged, making foolish decisions.
Then, they made a stand.
The big deficit disappeared, followed by the premature celebration around cavernous Staples Center. Dallas would beat the Lakers 96-94 in this West semifinal opener because it didn’t follow the first instinct of collapsing into the swamp that formed around both sides of halftime. It dug in for a comeback victory that has to be a confidence boost for a team that surely can use one in these situations.
The postseason has been tortuous territory for the Mavericks. From coughing up the commanding 2-0 series lead and a 13-point cushion in the fourth quarter of Game 3 against the Heat in the 2006 Finals, to shrinking into the history books with a meek showing against the Warriors in a first-round mega-upset in 2007, to as recently as April 23. That was the Brandon Roy Game, except it was also the day Dallas updated its resume by wasting a 23-point lead on the Trail Blazers in a loss.
There has always been another recovery for these Mavs, so far. They responded to the gut check in Portland by winning the next two games to advance and clinching that series on the road, before coming to Los Angeles and climbing off the mat again, and on the road again.
The flash moment at the end of the first half and the start of the second, that was more like it, the kind of disintegration that has come to define the postseason Mavericks. Jason Terry made a ridiculous decision by challenging Lamar Odom and fouling deep in the backcourt with seven-tenths of a second on the clock as Odom was flinging up a no-chance shot. Odom made three free throws. And when Dirk Nowitzki whipped an elbow while positioning for a potential rebound on the last attempt from the line, he was called for a technical, Kobe Bryant converted that, and Dallas had handed over four unnecessary points when it should have been in the locker room trailing only 49-44.
When the Lakers opened the second half with a 7-0 burst, the two-time defending champions had a 60-44 cushion in this one.
In perfect position to wilt again, the Mavs instead stepped up. They shot 61.1 percent in the third quarter, overcame seven turnovers, and closed to within three late in the period before trailing 78-71 heading into the fourth. Once there, they shot 52.6 percent, didn’t have a turnover and the Lakers managed just 31.8 percent. The comeback was complete as Dirk Nowitzki scored 11 of his team-high 28 points in the decisive 12 minutes.
Of course he did. In just the first round, Nowitzki hit the Trail Blazers for 18 points in the fourth of Game 1, 14 in the same stretch of Game 2 and 14 in the quarter of the Game 6 clincher, all Dallas victories. All moments of composure.