After back-to-back last-possession losses, the Dallas Mavericks easily could have let another one get away.
Instead, the defending champs used veteran leadership to hold off the Utah Jazz 94-91 on Thursday night.
”We hung in there,” said Mavs forward Shawn Marion. ”We knew they were going to make a run. They’re a young and energetic team. They play hard in this building. We kept our composure. We were able to respond after every run they made.”
Marion, a 12th-year pro, scored a season-high 22 points, including a late layup off a pass from Jason Kidd. It came after a three-pointer by Jason Terry broke an 87-87 tie with 2:26 remaining.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak and cooled off the league’s hottest team.
Actually the Jazz were still pretty hot afterward in a game that saw four technical fouls called and second-year pro Derrick Favors ejected late in the third quarter after throwing the ball into the stands to protest a call.
”It’s for sure we got fight,” said Al Jefferson, who led Utah with 22 points. ”We got to get that reputation around the league that we’re not going to be pushed around. We’re going to fight to the end. Dallas may have won the game, but they know they were in a fight.”
The Jazz were down by 13 in the second quarter and by 11 in the third before rallying. Utah led by three early in the fourth after a dunk by C.J. Miles, but couldn’t hold on.
”They had some big buckets down the stretch, and we had a couple of times when we couldn’t convert and the stress got to us,” said Miles, who finished with 17 points and hit a late three-pointer for the final margin.
The Jazz lost at home for only the second time all season — the other came in overtime against the Lakers. It was only their second loss in the last 10 games overall.
”This is a big win,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who had 12 points and five rebounds for the Mavs. ”This is a tough place to play.”
Nowitzki stoked the Jazz emotions late in the third when he slapped the ball out of Favors’ hands after the Utah rookie was called for an offensive foul.
Backup point guard Earl Watson stood up for his teammate and tussled with Nowitzki on the sideline, drawing the first Jazz technical. Thirty seconds later, Favors drew a technical and an ejection when he was called for another offensive foul and tossed the ball into the crowd.
”I was pretty frustrated,” said Favors, who had 10 points. ”I let my emotions get to me.”
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin wasn’t happy the Jazz lost control, but he liked the fight, especially with so many young players seeing significant minutes.
Rookie Alec Burks played 22 minutes and second-year pro Gordon Hayward 27.
”Tyrone Corbin is doing a great job. They have lost a lot of key guys — (Andrei) Kirilenko and (Mehmet) Okur,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. ”These young guys are playing hard and playing within the system, and their big guys are getting better and better.”
Carlisle, who acknowledged before the game that this isn’t the same Mavs team that won the NBA title last season, still feels pretty good about the group he does have despite the up-and-down season.
”We’re making steady progress,” he said. ”But it is work. We got to continue with it. It doesn’t happen overnight. It simply doesn’t.”
The Mavs were coming off back-to-back last-possession losses to the Lakers and Clippers, but they came out strong Thursday.
The Mavs led 59-50 at halftime, but were up by as many as 13 after a 13-4 run fueled by Marion’s running jumper and Terry’s three-pointer.
”We didn’t come out with enough energy and intensity in the first half and they jumped on us,” said Paul Millsap.
”That was the turning point of the game. You got to bring it.”
Nowitzki and the Mavs slowed down one of the league’s hottest players in Millsap, limiting the Jazz power forward to 2 of 7 shooting in the first half. Millsap had averaged 23.3 points and 9.8 rebounds in his previous four games, but had just six at halftime and finished with 16 on just 6 of 16 shooting.
Utah also had dominated in the paint in recent games, but was outscored 30-18 in the first half in that category and 48-38 overall.
Millsap said Utah was slow to rotate defensively and allowed easy layups. Marion was happy to take advantage.
”I had some great positioning and I was able to get what I wanted to,” he said.
”We know we’re taking baby steps in the right direction. We’re still just trying to learn from mistakes and get better every game.”
NOTES: Mavs G/F Vince Carter missed his second straight game with a sprained left foot. Coach Rick Carlisle said before the game the injury is not serious, but that Carter wouldn’t rejoin the team on this road trip, which ends Saturday in New Orleans. … Former Mavs swingman Josh Howard missed his third straight game for Utah with a strained left quad. … Lamar Odom, who has struggled to find his rhythm since being traded from L.A., started 3 of 3 on Thursday and finished with 11 points. … Nowitzki was whistled for a technical foul at the end of the first half.