DALLAS – Forget the Mavericks’ failure to finish. Coach Rick Carlisle preferred to rant about his team’s wretched start in Monday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Never mind that the Mavs still managed to take a five-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, only to blow it down the stretch.
“The game was lost in the first three minutes when we were down 10-0 and weren’t ready to play,” said Carlisle, who called a couple of timeouts before the Mavs managed to score a point. “If you want it simple, that’s simple. It’s on me. I didn’t have our guys ready to play, so I’m taking all the responsibility for this.
“You’ve got a team of guys that just goes out and is just kind of walking around. At the beginning of the game. That’s on the coach.”
Elton Brand comes off the bench, so he can’t be blamed for the Mavs’ bad start. But he had an explanation for the Mavs’ stumbling out of the gates that was as good as any, although it’s inexcusable.
Maybe the Mavs got a little full of themselves after opening the homestand with a couple of wins.
“The mood before tonight was, OK, we have a chance,” Brand said. “We felt good about ourselves and it might have been to our detriment. Tonight, we might have been feeling a little too good at the offset of the game.”
The Mavs felt miserable after the game, dealing with the sickening feeling of faltering down the stretch yet again. They fell to 8-13 in games that were within three points in the final minute of regulation this season.
O.J. Mayo committed two turnovers to complete this clutch crumbling. Those were the most glaring of many mistakes in the final five minutes.
“We definitely needed to have that one,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “I don’t even know what to say. It’s a game we needed to have. It’s a tough one. We had our chances.”
A few more notes from the Mavs’ frustrating loss:
1. Mayo’s mistakes: Two poor possessions in the final minute made Mayo’s 19 points a mere footnote.
With the Mavs down one, Mayo was trying to finish a fast break with a go-ahead layup when ex-Mav Devin Harris stripped the ball from behind with 23.9 seconds remaining. The Mavs were forced to foul Josh Smith, who made both free throws to extend Atlanta’s lead to three.
On the ensuing possession, Mayo threw a poor pass that was picked off by Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague, essentially sealing the Mavs’ fate. The Hawks fooled Mayo by switching at the point of a screen on a pick-and-pop with Vince Carter and the pass hit Teague in the head as he blanketed Carter, who Mayo hoped to set up for a 3-pointer.
“I’ve just gotta take care of the ball,” Mayo said. “It’s just an opportunity for us to win the game and we’ve got to take care of the ball better.”
It’s been a recurring problem for Mayo in close games. His 15 clutch turnovers this season are tied for the third most in the league, according to the NBA’s advanced statistics.
2. Scorching Smith: The book on Atlanta forward Josh Smith is to let him try to beat you with his jumper. Well, he did just that to the Mavs.
Smith scored a game-high 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting. He was 4-of-5 from 3-point range and made three more long jumpers.
“He’s so good at putting the ball on the deck and so athletic that obviously I’ve got to give him a step or two,” said Nowitzki, who defended Smith most of the night. “He just looked really good stepping into his shot and really confident. The way he was going, I probably should have closed out harder and made him put the ball on the deck, but that’s usually his game.”
3. Cuban’s commitment: Owner Mark Cuban, who hadn’t been around the Mavs for a couple of weeks while he dealt with other business interests, returned with a day’s worth of stubble on his face. He vowed to join the bunch of Mavs who are letting their beards grow … but only for the rest of the week.
“I just have to see what happens with this other [business] stuff,” Cuban said. “ I can’t go and sell a big chunk of my company and show up all scruffy.”
Cuban said he thinks the pact to not shave until the Mavs get back to .500 is “fun.” He joked that the only downside was that his wife stopped shaving.