MILWAUKEE — Vince Carter may not be able to elevate like he used to, but he still knows how to hit a big shot.
Each time the Bucks made a push to close the gap, Carter hit a long 3-pointer or beat his man on a drive to the basket. On a night Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle talked at length about the youth on his team pregame, the 36-year-old Carter scored 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to lead Dallas to a 115-108 victory over the Bucks.
“I’ve been coaching in this league for almost 20 years now and the last time we played Dallas was the first time and the only time I’ve ever seen Vince have a bad game,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “I was coming into this game with a little concern because he takes big shots and makes big shots.
“Last game we were able to contain him, but tonight he was the difference maker.”
Carter finished 6 of 10 from the field and hit four of his six 3-pointers. Laughing and smiling with fans and opponents, the veteran looked like he was just out there having fun.
“I felt in a groove tonight,” Carter said. “The basket just seemed huge, and I was playing with a lot of confidence out there. I felt comfortable with my shot all night, and I was prepared for a battle.
“We are fighting for a playoff spot and I know that our guys are all locked in. When it came to the fourth quarter it came down to who wanted it more.”
With both Atlanta and Boston losing Tuesday night, the Bucks had a golden opportunity to move within a half game of the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee stayed 1-1/2 games back instead mainly due to a lackluster effort on the defensive end.
The Bucks have put an emphasis on defending walk-up 3-pointers and transition defense in general the last few weeks, and Boylan had been seeing progress. But the Mavericks got going during a stretch where they outscored the Bucks 39-12 to turn a nine-point deficit into a 75-57 lead and never looked back.
“Tonight we were just a little bit lackadaisical and they got a nice rhythm going,” Boylan said. “They are in a position right now where they are kind of clinging to life and as they are coming down the stretch these games are really important.”
Milwaukee battled back to cut it to 98-91 with 6:08 left and had three cracks at cutting further into the deficit before Carter hit the first of his three, 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, this one a 25-footer.
A J.J. Redick jumper made it 101-96, but Carter had an answer. Again with a defender in his face, Carter stepped back and drilled a 26-footer, putting the Mavericks up by eight. Not going away, the Bucks cut it to 106-100 before Carter all but iced the game with another 3-pointer and a drive to the basket for a layup with 1:40 left.
He looked like the Vince Carter of old, except his total elevation might have only added up to what he used to get on one of his dunks.
“We had some big shots go in all night but Vince got hot at the perfect moment,” Carlisle said. “We had Dirk (Nowitzki) out of the game because he needed a break in the third quarter, and Vince came in and hit some hellacious shots. He has that capability and tonight was a great example of it. Vince was fearless.”
With time running out on the season, every opportunity to gain ground in the standings is valuable. While the Bucks didn’t lose ground with Tuesday’s loss, they could have pulled within a tie of the loss column for the sixth seed with fifth place in sight.
The schedule is not kind to Milwaukee, as the Bucks just returned home from playing a back-to-back in the Bay Area with only Monday off before starting another back-to-back. After Wednesday’s game against the Wizards, the Bucks will have played in Oakland, Sacramento, Milwaukee and Washington D.C. in a span of five days.
Then they get a day off before hosting the Miami Heat on Friday. All losses sting, but losing at home Tuesday stung hard because the Bucks could have gained a game on two teams ahead of them.
“We just have to continue to play basketball,” Bucks guard Monta Ellis said. “We have 20 games left. I’m not even worried about that. It’s one game. We have another one tomorrow. We have to stay together as a team and get back to playing our game.”