Sunday afternoon in the American Airlines Center, the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers played one of the more thrilling and remarkable games of the 2016 NBA season. The considerable importance of the game only magnified the proceedings.
Mavs-Blazers was packed with fun, craziness and intensity, offering something for fans with wildly disparate tastes. The game was a buffet table of basketball — if you didn’t like one aspect of the game, surely another component was tasty enough to enjoy.
None of those statements — through though they are — come close to describing the totality of what unfolded in Big D.
Mavs-Blazers unfurled several developments which — on their own — would rate as headline-grabbing stories. That they coexisted in the same game makes Dallas-Portland one of the most significant and memorable events of the entire 82-game campaign.
When the smoke had cleared, Dallas had survived. The Mavericks avoided a tie with the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot, on the precipice of exclusion from the postseason. They stayed one game ahead of Utah while tying the Houston Rockets for seventh plays and pulling a half-game behind the Blazers for sixth. Portland has 11 games left in the season, Dallas (like Houston and Utah) has 12.
Here’s a collection of the remarkable events which all converged within the space of one important basketball game on Sunday:
First of all, the man above joined the stage with the big-name players who are much more familiar with the NBA spotlight. Salah Mejri, a Tunisian who is trying to find a home in the league at age 29, produced the performance of his career: 13 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 blocks in just over 30 minutes. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said he needed every last piece on his bench. Mejri became that piece, inspired by the fact that this was the (not-very-old) anniversary of Tunisian Independence Day.
Mejri could have become the goat in this game, however, when he missed two free throws in the final half-minute of regulation in a 113-113 tie. Those misses gave Portland the last shot of regulation. Naturally, in a tie, Damian Lillard figured to get to the rim. Instead, he settled.
A three-point shot — even one Lillard felt comfortable shooting, as he would later say in postgame remarks — was not as good as getting to the rim and possibly earning a foul shot. Had Portland trailed by two, the three-point look would have made more sense, but not in a tie. That has to rate as something of a shock, as does the 8-of-26 shooting line Lillard posted in this game. The shot, of course, missed, enabling Mejri to not lament his misadventure at the foul line. Dallas received a reprieve of sorts, and gratefully stormed the castle in the overtime period, outscoring Portland by a 19-7 mark.
The storylines just kept coming, starting with the two men who carried Dallas in that overtime stanza.
Dallas’s basketball icon, Dirk Nowitzki merely scored 40 points, continuing to produce vintage wine in his advanced hoops age. The German continues to inspire by pouring out self and soul not in the pursuit of a championship — a title is plainly unattainable for his team in the current NBA — but merely to grab a playoff spot and avoid the lottery.
Many of Dirk’s buckets — several in the decisive overtime period — came on assists from Deron Williams, who has enjoyed life after his miserable stay in Brooklyn. D-Will posted 31 points and 16 assists, and he had a hand in a majority of the Mavs’ points in overtime. Like Dirk’s 40, those numbers from Williams were season-high marks.
You might wonder: With Dirk and Deron balling to the extent they did, and with Dame going 8-for-26, how did Portland possibly take this thing into overtime?
The bench and role players.
Allen Crabbe scored 24 to give Portland a plus-11 scoring margin on the bench. Mason Plumlee scored 14 points and hauled down 19 boards — 10 offensive — as Portland exceeded Dallas not only in offensive rebounds (22-8), but in the more important metric of offensive rebound percentage (35.4 percent to 20 percent).
All these stories, all these newsworthy and noteworthy items, collided in one game.
Know what’s really fun about processing and making sense of Sunday’s wildness?
The next game on these teams’ schedules is a return engagement in Portland this Wednesday.
Can you wait? You’ll have to… and as a reward, you’ll get a game which won’t occur during the NCAA tournament, either.