DALLAS -- Coach Rick Carlisle declared confidence in the Dallas Mavericks’ starting lineup before Friday night’s game.
“Now is not the time to be dabbling with different things,” Carlisle said.
Down 23 to the Denver Nuggets in the second quarter, hearing boos from the home crowd and staring a seventh loss in a nine-game span straight in the face? Yeah, that’s definitely a time for drastic measures to be taken.
Carlisle’s solution was to go small. It worked wonders as the Mavs managed to avoid what would have been a disastrous defeat, mounting the sixth biggest comeback in franchise history to pull off a had-to-have-it 122-116 overtime win at the American Airlines Center.
Dallas’ lineup combinations that featured Dirk Nowitzki at center, Chandler Parsons at power forward and reserve Raymond Felton as one of three guards outscored the Nuggets by 30 points over 17 minutes.
That started with a 12-1 run to close the first half after Denver took its largest lead of the night. It continued with Carlisle going small to start the second half, when Felton replaced center Zaza Pachulia in the lineup, a look the Mavs stuck with in overtime.
Was small ball a one-night wonder against the undersized, lottery-bound Nuggets? Or could it be the spark the slow-starting Mavs, who have led after the first quarter only twice in the past 11 games, so desperately need?
Carlisle was noncommittal when asked whether the small-ball lineup might start Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I have to look at the film and see what’s what with our entire lineup, but it’s a big 'we’ll see,'” Carlisle said. “I don’t have an answer for that right now. I like playing bigger guys, particularly to start games. It puts Dirk in a very tough position physically, to have to be the 5 man and guard a big monster, but I will look at it.”
Pachulia, the consummate pro whose career year has been so critical to the Mavs fighting for playoff position after the DeAndre Jordan free agency flip-flop, did not play another second after checking out with 7:39 remaining in the third quarter.
As would be expected, Pachulia had no complaints after watching his teammates pull off the comeback. The proud vet acknowledged that it was tough to sit so long and that of course he wanted to play, but he knew Carlisle needed to make a significant adjustment and wasn’t bothered that it meant benching him in this instance.
“It’s all about the team,” said Pachulia, an inspirational leader who is averaging 9.8 points and a career-high 10.6 rebounds this season. “It’s not an individual sport. We’re not playing tennis here or golf. It’s a team game, and I’m glad we won.
“It was a strange game. We were down so many, but I’m so proud of these guys fighting. So many guys stepped up and made huge plays throughout the course. We didn’t give up. It was a fun game. Not easy to look at it, but we won the game. That’s what matters. We need every single game right now.”
As Felton, who was plus-30 in the game and carried the Mavs in crunch time, added, “You make adjustments as the game goes on. Zaza’s still a big part of this team. He’s still our starting center. It was something we did tonight, and it helped us.”
The Nuggets, not exactly a defensive juggernaut, never figured out how to slow down Dallas with Parsons at power forward and Nowitzki at center. Dallas scored 44 points in those 17 minutes, going 16-of-22 from the floor and 8-of-11 from 3-point range.
Nowitzki actually did most of his scoring in the first half, when he had 14 of his 20 points, but putting a legendary perimeter threat at center stretches defenses in extremely unconventional ways. Parsons, Felton and wing Wesley Matthews took turns feasting with the floor opened up and the ball hopping, a stark contrast to the painfully stagnant Mavs offense from the first quarter.
Parsons scored 21 of his game-high 27 points in the second half, including 15 in the third quarter, when he was 6-of-6 from the floor and knocked down a few 3-pointers. He was at power forward the majority of the quarter, when new addition David Lee (14 points and 14 rebounds in his second game with the Mavs) played center for 6:30.
Felton took over with the game on the line, making a driving layup on the Mavs’ last possession of regulation and scoring eight points off paint attacks in overtime.
Matthews had 15 of his 17 points in the second half. He hit four 3-pointers, all open looks off of feeds from Parsons or a guard.
It’s up to Carlisle to determine whether small ball was a Band-Aid or a potential long-term cure for the struggling Mavs, who are in sixth place in the West despite their recent slide.
“I think it’s something that you’ve got to look at,” said Parsons, who had all four of his assists after halftime. “Game to game, there’s obviously going to be some teams that it’s tough to match up against, but it’s something that we can definitely look to and we’ve had some success doing it.”
As Nowitzki added, “Rick is one of the best in the business. Whatever the game brings on a nightly basis, I think Coach is going to adjust and see what works. He’s not afraid to throw any lineup out there.”