DENVER -- In a physical game that seemed all but lost Saturday night at the Pepsi Center, the Dallas Mavericks suddenly saw themselves in position to steal it.
Down by as many as 17 points late in the second quarter to the Denver Nuggets, the Mavs missed out on two chances to send the game into overtime. But they wound up losing, 102-100, and also saw their four-game winning streak get snapped.
"It was good effort there in the second half,'' said forward Dirk Nowitzki, who finished with 27 points and nine rebounds. "We really fought well.
"We held them to 16 points in the fourth quarter, so I think we fought and gave it our best shot''
Trailing by that final score, the Mavs (9-5) had two opportunities to at least send the game into overtime. But a driving shot by Monta Ellis with 8.9 seconds left was blocked by Kenneth Faried.
The ball trickled out of bounds, giving the Mavs possession with 7.1 seconds to go. Nowitzki then received a pass from Vince Carter, but was unable to get his feet set and misfired from 22 feet as the final buzzer sounded.
"Down the stretch I missed my last two or three (shots), and Monta had a good look there on the drive to tie it,'' Nowitzki said. "It's obviously a disappointing loss, but I'm happy with the way we fought in the second half.''
Dallas trailed 57-40 with 4:02 left before halftime following a three-pointer by Randy Foye. But a pair of free throws by Ellis coupled with back-to-back buckets from Nowitzki helped stake the Mavs to a 100-98 lead with 2:02 remaining in the game.
Looking to stretch that lead out some more, Nowitzki missed a 16-foot turnaround jumper with 1:22 left. Foye then hit what turned out to be the game-winning shot as he nailed a three-pointer from the right side as the Nuggets assumed a 101-100 lead with 1:11 left.
"It was a tough game,'' said Ellis, who scored 25 points and collected six rebounds. "We did everything we could to get back in the game.
"They went down and made free throws and we didn't make our shots at the end. There is nothing we can do.'''
Shortly after Foye's three-pointer, Ellis missed a jumper. Foye also missed from the perimeter before a shot by Nowitzki -- which was rebounded by Faried -- missed its mark.
Faried split two free throws after he was immediately fouled by DeJuan Blair, pushing the Nuggets' lead to 102-100 with 14.7 ticks to go. Then came those two late crucial misses by Ellis and Nowitzki.
"We were down but we didn't want to give up,'' said Vince Carter, who finished with 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting. "We brought better fight, better focus and better energy in the second half.
"We were just a different team in the second half and I was proud to see everybody stick together.''
Coach Rick Carlisle wasn't on the court for much of the game. Referee Tony Brothers tagged Carlisle with two quick technicals with 5:14 left in the second period and the Mavs behind, 49-33, after Carlisle argued too vehemently over a call which didn't go his team's way.
"I didn't ask for an explanation (from Brothers),'' said Carlisle when asked about the technicals. "I thought (Foye) fouled (Ellis) extra hard.
"I thought the foul was excessive. I'm going to stand up for my players.''
The Mavs were hurt by the ineffectiveness of center Samuel Dalembert, who had 10-plus rebounds in three straight games but only produced three points and three rebounds in 22 minutes against the Nuggets. For the first time in his career, Dalembert wore a padded undergarment to protect sore ribs he encountered during the previous two games against Houston and Utah.
"I don't like to make any excuses,'' said Dalembert, who didn't have any field goal attempts after going a career-best 8-of-8 from the floor during Friday's win over Utah. "I'm not going to also lie and say it didn't affect me at some point, because it did.''
Denver jumped all over the Mavs in the first period, which ended with the Nuggets holding a 35-22 advantage. The Mavs made just 9-of-23 shots in the first quarter while the Nuggets converted 12-of-21 baskets.
"We got off to a slow start and we weren't rebounding,'' Carlisle said. "We were doing some other things well, but we couldn't finish off possessions and it got us off to a bad start.''
That slow start had the Mavs -- they are just 1-4 on the back end of a back-to-back -- swimming upstream all night.
"We knew we were going to have our chance to get back in the game,'' said Joae Calderon, who collected 11 points and five assists. "We couldn't just let them keep scoring that way.
"It wasn't like they were open. I think we were stopping their transition for a little while.''
Overall, the Mavs made just 40.2 percent of their shots to 44.3 percent for the Nuggets. What's more, these same two teams will see each other again on Monday when they'll play the second leg of their home-and-home at American Airlines Center.
The Mavs, who are only 2-5 on the road, will certainly be trying to exact revenge. They'll also be hoping they don't dig themselves into an early gigantic hole.
"Like I've been saying I think we're going to compete against everybody,'' Calderon said. "It doesn't matter where you play.
"I think we have a great team. We showed our character.''
-- Dwain Price
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