The Dallas Mavericks were well on their way to losing their third consecutive game Thursday night at American Airlines Center.
Then something magical happened. Something almost unexplainable happened.
Down 21 points to Utah with 6:09 remaining in the third quarter, the Mavericks proceeded to put on the rally of all rallies and wound up squeezing out a 112-105 victory against the Jazz in overtime in front of a rowdy sellout crowd of 19,883.
It was one of those games the Mavericks will remember for a long, long time.
"The guys have been fighting all year,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "Obviously, our guys did some great things execution-wise to get it to overtime – hats off to them.’’
With this win the Mavericks improved to 21-32 and kept alive their hopes of securing a Western Conference playoff spot. Utah, which came in sporting a four-game winning streak, dropped to 34-20.
After Dirk Nowitzki made a crucial jumper to tie the score at 100-100 with 2.8 seconds left in regulation, Devin Harris (13 points, five rebounds) and Harrison Barnes (31 points) completely took over the overtime session. Harris scored the Mavericks’ first four points in overtime, and Barnes tallied the other eight.
A three-point play by Barnes netted the Mavericks a 107-100 lead with 2:34 left in overtime, and the spirited Mavericks never looked back from there.
"I was just trying to be aggressive,’’ said Barnes, who converted 12-of-20 shots. "It was a good team win.
"We’ve put ourselves in tough situations, some of which we’ve battled out of and some which we haven’t. But this is a great victory for us.’’
For the Mavericks, this was one shining moment because it moved them within two-and-a-half games of the Denver Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot out West. It also was a confidence booster of sorts, since the Jazz were having a good old time just dunking and firing in 3-pointers while on the verge of running the Mavericks out of their own arena.
Then the tables turned when Carlisle went to his bench and brought Justin Anderson into the game. Utilizing his energy and ball-hawking skills, the second-year forward injected some life into the Mavericks, who seemed to have been sleep-walking through this game.
"We weren’t playing well, we were fighting hard enough, and the guy who changed the game was Anderson,’’ Carlisle said. "Justin Anderson came in with energy, with force.
"We really got juiced during his stretch. He played to exhaustion and the other guys were able to find a way to take it home.’’
Anderson entered the game for the first time with 6:44 remaining in the third quarter and the Mavericks trailing 71-50. By the time he left, he had put his imprint on this game.
That includes scoring on a rebound put-back dunk off a missed free throw that got Dallas within 70-78 early in the fourth quarter.
"Flying back from Denver (on Monday) and I didn’t have my best game out there defensively, and Dirk challenged me,’’ Anderson said. "I was talking to Dirk, (Barnes) and Dwight (Powell), and Dirk challenged me in front of those guys on the plane.
"He was like, ‘Hey man, get back to playing as hard as you can, focusing on defense and the offense is going to come.’ Hearing it him was different, it was an eye-opener, and I just love that he told me that he believed in me and get back to just playing and not worrying about anything else..’’
This was a game -- the way it was developing midway through the third quarter – the Mavericks had no business winning. But they showed some resiliency and fought back and won against one of the better teams in the NBA.
"We are just a resilient group,’’ Barnes said. "We are going to keep playing hard every single game.’’
For the second consecutive game, the Mavericks got an heroic performance out of Nowitzki, who’s two 3-pointers down the stretch Tuesday against Portland nearly made him a hero. Nowitzki followed up a 25-point effort against Portland with a 20-point showing against the Jazz.
He also, again, was clutch with the game on the line.
After Barnes missed a jumper late in regulation, Nowitzki grabbed an offensive rebound and dropped in a 20-footer to tie the game at 100 apiece and send it into overtime.
‘Dirk was obviously being himself down the stretch – clutch,’’ Barnes said. "I think overall it was a great team win.’’
Following Nowitzki’s clutch basket, Harris and Barnes took over from there.
"He’s just been a steady force for us,’’ Barnes said of Harris. "Defensively he comes in and takes tough matchups.
"Offensively, he’s getting in the paint, drawing fouls, making extra passes, getting us extra possessions. What he brings to our team is really invaluable.’’
Utah held a 23-20 lead after the first quarter and widen it to 54-42 at intermission. With Gordon Hayward (36 points), Joe Ingles (16 points) and Rudy Gobert (15 points, 15 rebounds) having a picnic at the Mavericks’ expense, the Jazz had turned this game into a laughingstock.
But in the end, this was the first time the Mavericks won a game by such a large margin since they rallied form a 23-point deficit against Denver on Feb. 26, 2016 to defeat the Nuggets.
"We’re playing one game at and a time and we’re going to keep fighting,’’ said Wesley, who collected 15 points, six rebounds and five assists. "I’m proud of his team and I’m proud of everybody in this locker room.
"Justin came in with a lot of energy and changed the complexion of the game up, guys stepped up big time and we fought. We knew we could compete with this team.’’
Indeed, it was one of those games the Mavericks will never forget.