PHOENIX — Dallas barely showed up for their game against the Clippers on Wednesday, falling behind by double-digits early and then never really competing while the second half turned into nothing more than extended garbage time.
Things began similarly in Phoenix on Thursday, with the Suns getting out to an 11-1 lead in the game’s first three minutes. But whether due to the level of competition or due to finding an inner will to fight, Dallas came back strong to build a 15-point lead of its own, before ultimately hanging on for a much-needed 97-94 victory.
“We played one of our strongest-willed games of the year,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said afterward. “Difficult situation, coming off the back-to-back and a rough one [Wednesday night], but everybody really played with a lot of heart and a lot of guts.”
Dallas got a big offensive game out of O.J. Mayo, who finished with 23 points, five rebounds, and five assists in 40 minutes of action. Mayo turned the ball over six times, so his night was far from perfect. But with the game tied at 87 with 34 seconds left, he hit what was effectively the game-winner — a tough 21-foot jumper over Sebastian Telfair, who was right there defending and in pretty good position.
Mayo said that his previous ventures into the lane made him look for space to take the jumper in this situation.
“I was trying to get into an area where I could just elevate over Bassy, who’s a good defender with his hands and feet,” he said. “I went [into the lane] one time and got a charge, another time I got my shot altered by [Markieff Morris]. So I just wanted to get into an open area around the foul line so I could elevate over him.”
Goran Dragic had a chance to tie on the following possession, and got right to the rim after getting past Mayo, but couldn’t convert the left-handed layup. It was fouls and free throws the rest of the way, and former Sun Vince Carter made four of those free throws to help seal it.
“I live for those moments,” Carter said. “I would’ve been mad if I missed ’em. Believe me.”
The Suns fought hard themselves to get back into this one and even have a chance near the end, considering the brutal 23-4 run they endured to open the second half — one that lasted over eight minutes, and turned their four-point lead into a deficit of 15.
It’s been the pattern in Phoenix all season, where the Suns have fallen behind by double-digits in eight of their nine home games, and have come back to at least tie the game every single time. The excitement created by the wild swings on this night was likely enough to send fans home feeling satisfied — or at least, the folks behind the money-back guarantee promotion that was in effect for this one would certainly hope so.
Phoenix got a nice performance from Markieff Morris, who grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds. And Luis Scola worked his tail off all night long, defending and taking charges while knocking down six of his 10 shots in 24 minutes. But with Michael Beasley continuing his inconsistent play, and Marcin Gortat being similarly ineffective offensively, Phoenix doesn’t have a lot of other places to look for reliable sources of production.
This was a physical contest, with plenty of players getting dinged up along the way. Chris Kaman left with an ankle sprain, Shawn Marion went down with a groin strain, Jermaine O’Neal left after getting poked in the eye, and P.J. Tucker suffered a sprained MCL.
Dallas won the battle of attrition, and Carlisle couldn’t have been more pleased afterward. Though he did promise the team would continue to work on its deficiencies, while using an interesting analogy in the process.
“We’re going to keep working to eliminate mistakes,” Carlisle said. “We still missed blockouts, we still turn it over. Sometimes we make hard work out of sex. And it’s tough in this league when you do that, when you shoot yourself in the foot. But we’ve got good guys, and they really stuck together tonight, and it was big for us.”