Rookie Marko Jaric committed a pair of crucial turnovers in the final minute to end any chances the Clippers had at an upset as the Mavericks escaped with a 114-107 victory.
With the Clippers down, 104-101, Jaric dribbled into the corner but was trapped and tried to force a pass back to the top of the key. Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 27 points, picked off the pass and raced downcourt for a basket that gave Dallas a five-point lead with 55 seconds left.
On the next possession, Jaric passed up an easy layup and tried to feed a short pass to Eric Piatkowski under the basket. Again, Nowitzki was there to steal it.
Nowitzki was fouled and made both free throws with 49 seconds remaining. The Clippers never got closer than five points the rest of the way as they bailed out the Mavericks, who knew they were lucky to get out of with a win.
“We’ve gone from last in the league in defense to 11th, but you wouldn’t know that by tonight because we couldn’t guard anybody tonight,” Mavericks coach Don Nelson said. “We have the best record in the league and we were beatable.”
Dallas made its last 11 free throws in the final 3:17. Los Angeles, meanwhile, made only 2-of-7 from the line down the stretch, including a pair of misses by Jaric with 2:48 left and the Clippers trailing, 98-96.
“It came down to the last two minutes and unfortunately we fell short,” Clippers coach Dennis Johnson said. “The difference was missed free throws and the turnovers in the end.”
Before the closing minutes, Jaric had played very well. He scored 13 points, shot 3-of-4 from 3-point range, and collected seven rebounds and seven assists.
“It’s pretty dangerous to let a team hang around,” Nowitzki said. “We just can’t stop anyone. But we found a way to win and I don’t think it’s a lack of effort.”
Piatkowski led the Clippers with a season-high 22 points and Corey Maggette added 21, although he struggled in the second half.
The Clippers never led after Nick Van Exel hit a running jump shot to give Dallas a 43-42 edge with 5:03 left before halftime. Van Exel scored 21 of the Mavericks’ 36 points in the second quarter and finished with 29.
The Mavericks played a laid-back style of defense and allowed the Clippers to shoot 48 percent (43-of-89) from the field.
Los Angeles’ defensive effort was not much better. With 2:34 left, Andre Miller left his defensive position and made an ill-advised attempt for a steal, allowing Nowitzki to go straight to the basket for a layup that gave Dallas a 100-96 lead.
Steve Nash added 19 points and 12 assists for the Mavericks, who swept the four-game season series from the Clippers.
Maggette led the Clippers with 11 rebounds as they owned a 50-43 advantage on the boards. Nowitzki also had 11 rebounds, as well as four steals and four assists.
“We started the game well,” said Clippers forward Lamar Odom, who had 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists. “They hit shots you think won’t go in. We want to focus on winning … during these last few games of the season.”
The Clippers have lost 15 of their last 18 games.