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EGGERS: Mavericks play the full Monta, end Blazers' streak
My dreams of playing in the NBA died four decades ago. And unless Rick Carlisle makes good on his promise to reference me for a coaching job in the NBA Development League, that's not going to happen, either.
Still, as your faithful local scribe, I feel obligated to point out what I view as mistakes by Carlisle and LaMarcus Aldridge at the end of an undeniably entertaining 108-106 Dallas victory over Portland Saturday night at the Moda Center.
Monta Ellis' fadeaway 20-footer at the buzzer provided Carlisle's Mavericks with an important road victory over the red-hot, never-say-die Trail Blazers (17-4), bringing to silence a stunned sellout crowd of 20,142 that had sensed overtime and presumed victory.
Damian Lillard had tied the score at 106-106 with a lean-in 3-point shot after head-faking Dallas' Shawn Marion with 1.9 seconds left for the Blazers, who had risen from the dead after trailing 106-100 with 45 seconds remaining.
It's on that play that I question a decision by Carlisle, whom I have known since his years as a Portland assistant under P.J. Carlesimo (1994-97) and respect as one of the greatest coaching minds in the game.
The Blazers called time out with 6.8 seconds left, trailing 106-103, and coach Terry Stotts designed a play to free up Lillard for a game-knotting 3-pointer. The Blazers in-bounded to Aldridge at about the free-throw line. Aldridge -- guarded by Jae Crowder -- caught the ball and dropped it back to Lillard, whose clothesline trey brought the house to its greatest crescendo of the night.
In the post-game media session, I asked Carlisle if he had considered fouling before the Blazers could get a shot off in that situation. I got the impression he didn't like the question.
"What difference does it make?" he asked, looking at me unpleasantly.
Well, I responded, a foul before a shot would leave the Mavericks still ahead by at least one point with very little time remaining.
"You should get a D-League (coaching) job," he said.
I pondered that possibility for an instance. When I answered enthusiastically, Carlisle said he could put in a call for me. I think he immediately thought better of it.
"We talked about (fouling)," he began, then launched into what was really gnawing at him. "It's the media's favorite thing to second-guess, all right? But none of you guys have ever coached, and very few of you have played.
"It's a very difficult situation. It's gotten harder and harder to even get to a guy and foul him. Then oftentimes when you're trying to foul him, he's going into the shot. So you give them three free throws and a four-point play? So that's tough, too. It's a philosophical thing. I'm not against it with the right amount of time left, but there was quite a bit of time. A lot of things can happen."
Carlisle -- who played five NBA seasons and has a championship ring as both a player (1986, Boston) and head coach (2011, Dallas) -- makes some good points, and I'm not in total disagreement. In the situation at the end of Friday's game, though, the Mavericks should have fouled.
It can be a bit tricky to foul a player before he can hoist a shot. However, in this instance, it wouldn't have mattered. Aldridge received the pass with his back to the basket. Crowder could have grabbed him while receiving the pass, and there's no way Aldridge could have gotten a shot off.
There would have been between five and six seconds left. Even if Aldridge had hit both free throws, the Blazers -- with no timeouts left -- would have had to foul on the Mavericks' inbound pass, wait to see if the player fouled made one or two free throws, then race the ball upcourt in all probability to hit a miracle 3 just to force overtime.
Ironically, Aldridge said Crowder did foul him -- unintentionally -- on the inbound pass, displaying a scratch under his left eye as evidence.
"He smacked me in the face," Aldridge said. "I got it to 'Dame' still, but he got me good."
Like Carlisle, I'm not always of the mind to foul when ahead by three points with not much time remaining. This was the perfect time, though, to employ that strategy. Carlisle should have prepared his troops for such a possibility.
After Lillard's clutch 3-pointer, Carlisle called time out to design a play. And what a job he did with that. The Blazers expected the ball to go with Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas' Hall of Fame-bound forward who had enjoyed a monster night with 28 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
"Everybody thought they were going to Dirk," Aldridge revealed.
Carlisle set up a triple screen on the short side of the court. Ellis lost defender Wesley Matthews in the maze of bodies, took the inbound pass from Jose Calderon and drifted right just outside the foul line. There was precious little time on the clock.
Aldridge -- who was guarding Nowitzki -- was the one Blazer in position to challenge Ellis. He needed to act quickly to get there in time to affect the shot, but he didn't even try. Ellis buried the wide-open shot. Game over. A wild Dallas celebration at Moda as the fans filed quietly out of the arena.
I asked Stotts if Aldridge had erred in not jumping out to pick up Ellis.
"It happened so fast," Stotts said. "L.A. was in a position it was a tie game, so you're worried about slips to the basket that's a tough call."
The same question was offered to Aldridge.
"I was trying to watch Dirk in a zone-up," he said. "I saw Ellis come off (the picks). By the time I looked up, it was too late. I wanted to make sure they didn't have anything going to the basket."
Problem with that logic is, there are only 1.9 seconds on the clock when the pass leaves Calderon's hands. The ball gets to Ellis, who moves right and shoots almost instantly. If Aldridge darts out to take him, there is too little time for Ellis to pass to a teammate who can get a shot off before the buzzer. Aldridge should have read the situation, gone immediately to Ellis and contested the shot. He might not have gotten there in time, but he should have tried.
It was the finish to a fun game to watch and a tough loss to stomach for the Blazers, who still possess the best record in the Western Conference but saw the end to win streaks overall (four games) and at home (eight games).
"We have to let it go," said Lillard, who was absolutely sensational in matching his season high with 32 points, making four 3-pointers in the final 4:16. "We can't play the game over again. It's over with. I hate to lose a game like that. I'd rather be blown out than to lose at the buzzer. We have to move on and take care of business in our next game."
I can't go along with that logic. It's much better for the Blazers to lose a heartbreaker than to get blown out. Dallas shot superbly (.529 from the field, .500 from 3-point range) and Nowitzki was terrific down the stretch, scoring nine points over the final 3:48.
But the Blazers clobbered Dallas on the boards (50-36), hung tough after trailing by 10 in the third quarter and rallied from a six-point deficit inside the final minute to give themselves a chance to win.
The biggest problem was performance at the 3-point line. A night after setting an NBA record for 3-point efficiency with at least 15 makes (17 for 23, .739), the Blazers were only 9 for 30 (.300).
"I was pleased with the way we competed, especially in the second half," Stotts said. "We just came up short."
NOTES: Lillard said he expected to get a good shot from the 3-point line on Portland's final possession. "We had run a play similar to that in earlier games, and we came off open every time," he said. "Marion knew I was trying to raise up, so I knew he'd jump. I head-faked him and he didn't jump as far up as I thought he would, so I jumped to the side. The shot went in. I wasn't sure if I was behind the line or not." Video review confirmed he was. Ellis had plenty of confidence he would knock down his game-winner. "I was born for it," the 6-3 guard, who scored 22 points, said of that situation. "I love that time of the game. I've hit a couple of game-winners in my career. At that point of the game, you always like to have that confidence to take the last shot, and I got it." ... Ellis said as the Mavericks broke out of the timeout, he told teammate Vince Carter, "if he gave me the ball, the game was over." Ellis then walked over to Calderon, "and we made eye contact, and I told him to give me the ball, I'm ready for it." Aldridge collected 19 points and 13 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the season. Teammate Robin Lopez had 14 points and 14 rebounds for his eighth double-double, and tied a career high with eight offensive boards. Portland forward Nicolas Batum had a big offensive game with 22 points, six assists and five rebounds. Portland dropped to 5-1 playing the second of back-to-back games, after beating Utah Friday night.