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Mavs again can't close vs. Clippers

3/28/2014
With or without Chris Paul, the Clippers have found a way to bury the Mavs down the stretch. Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS -- Maybe the Mavericks can convince the Los Angeles Clippers to play by college rules next week at Staples Center.

Shorten the game to 40 minutes and the Mavs might even be considered favorites.

Heck, for 43 minutes, the Mavs can more than hold their own against the Clippers, but those last five minutes are absolute misery for Dallas.

"For some reason, we felt like we should have gotten all three of them and got none of them," Dirk Nowitzki said after the Mavs blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s 109-103 loss to the Clippers, their third defeat in three games against Los Angeles this season. "Very disappointed."

The Clippers closed out this game with a 16-5 run. That matches the way L.A. finished off the Mavs during the Clippers’ previous visit to the American Airlines Center this season. And that looks competitive compared to the finish when these teams met at Staples Center on Jan. 15, when the Clippers erased a 17-point deficit in the final 4 minutes, 49 seconds.

The Mavs’ three losses to the Clippers have come by a combined 15 points. They’ve been outscored by 38 in the final five minutes of those games.

"I think we did a pretty good job until the end," Mavs point guard Jose Calderon said, reaching for the silver lining. "We’ve got one more chance. Hopefully, next week we can beat these guys. We’re close. We’re right there with them. We’ve just got to try to finish a little bit better."

Yeah, just a little bit better. That’s like saying the Mavs were just a little bit interested in recruiting All-Star point guard Chris Paul away from L.A. this summer, a deal they never had a chance to close.

It’d be frustrating but somewhat understandable if the Mavs could simply tip their caps to Paul, one of the game’s great closers, who lit it up for 31 points and nine assists Thursday night. But Paul wasn’t even available for crunch time in the previous Mavs-Clippers meetings this season, having injured his shoulder earlier in the Jan. 3 game and having sat out the rematch less than two weeks later.

It was Darren Collison, the scapegoat for many of the Mavs’ closing woes last season, running the show for the Clippers during their crunch-time clinics those nights.

It’s not surprising for the Mavs to struggle to get stops late against an elite scoring team such as the Clippers, but the Mavs' high-powered offense has gone impotent down the stretch in each game.

Warning: MFFLs might find the following numbers offensive, so to speak.

Combining the final five minutes of Dallas' three losses to the Clippers, the Mavs made only five of 26 shots from the floor. That’s a shooting percentage of 19.2, which looks like a batting average for a Texas Rangers catcher, not something you’d see from one of the NBA’s most efficient offenses.

Much of that failure falls on the broad shoulders of the big German. Nowitzki has only one more point (three) than turnovers (two) during that 15-minute sample, making only one of 11 shots from the floor.

Nowitzki was tremendous through three quarters and terrible in the fourth in this loss. He finished with 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting, but he missed all six of his field goal attempts and even missed a few free throws in the final frame.

"We were trying to find a hot hand at the end," coach Rick Carlisle said, "and it was just a struggle."

Monta Ellis, who has been magnificent in closing time since the All-Star break, couldn’t pick up the slack. He had the Mavs’ only bucket in the final five minutes, but Ellis had an awful shooting night (4-of-19 from the floor). He bricked a potential go-ahead long 2-pointer with 1:03 to go and clanked what would have been a tying 18-footer with 15.9 seconds remaining. The shot selection in those two instances was iffy, to be polite.

But the Mavs were desperately searching for a source of offense down the stretch. Sixth man Vince Carter poured in 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, but his final attempt was a wild, air-ball fadeaway with a little less than four minutes to go.

"We just haven’t gotten over the hump," Carter said. "It’s tough. It’s very frustrating, but we fought like hell to give ourselves a chance to win at the end. That’s all you can ask for."

Yeah, it’s probably pointless to ask for a college clock.