It was just as Johnson expected.
In their first matchup since Vincent left Johnson’s staff to take his first NBA coaching job, the Mavericks nearly blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead before pulling out a 102-95 win on Wednesday night.
“His team didn’t quit tonight. We had a chance to put them away, but they fought back,” Johnson said. “That’s a tribute to his toughness and what he’s instilled in these guys.”
After racing to a 10-1 lead and seemingly in control in early in the fourth quarter, Vincent’s Bobcats stormed back, only to run out of gas.
“Now I understand what some of my mentors go through,” said Johnson, who met with Vincent Tuesday night. “It was difficult because you want him to be successful. Not tonight. We needed a win in the worst way.”
Nowitzki had 20 points and eight rebounds for the Mavericks, who improved to 7-0 all-time against Charlotte.
“The teams that we’re used to getting wins from, they’re not easy wins anymore,” Howard said. “They’re coming to play night in and night out.”
Gerald Wallace had 22 points and 11 rebounds and played all 48 minutes despite being questionable going in with a strained left calf. Wallace said he wasn’t at full strength, and it hampered him when he missed a jumper and a reverse layup with Charlotte trailing by three with less than 3 minutes left.
“I can live with it because I know my explosiveness wasn’t there,” Wallace said. “I didn’t jump or attack the basket the way I wanted to.”
Jason Richardson also scored 22 points and Okafor had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Bobcats, who lost their second straight game.
“We played hard and played well in spurts,” Vincent said. “We just have to get better at making key decisions at key times.”
Vincent, who spent one season on Johnson’s staff, appeared overmatched at the start.
With the Bobcats starting essentially two point guards with 6-foot-1 Raymond Felton and 6-4 Jeff McInnis, the Mavericks immediately took it inside. Dallas had four offensive rebounds in the first three minutes and built a 10-1 lead before Okafor’s dunk ended Charlotte’s 0-for-6 start from the field.
Dallas scored 18 points in the paint in building a 30-17 lead after the first quarter before Richardson led Charlotte’s comeback.
Richardson scored 13 of the Bobcats’ final 16 points of the second quarter to get Charlotte within 57-49.
The Mavericks lost swingman Jerry Stackhouse for the game to a strained right hamstring early in the period.
The Mavericks built their lead to 82-68 on Jason Terry’s jumper 15 seconds into the fourth quarter. That’s when the Mavericks let the Bobcats back in the game with shaky defense and by settling for jumpers.
While it wasn’t turnovers that cost the Mavs—they had only eight after committing 39 in the past three games—they allowed Charlotte to go on a 19-8 run that forced Johnson to use his starters all the way to the end, two days before they host the Los Angeles Lakers.
Harris eventually bailed out the Mavericks. Continuing a stretch of strong play, he finished two points shy of his career high set last week. Harris shot 8-of-12 from the floor and 6-of-7 on free throws while consistently beating Bobcats’ defenders off the dribble.
“Devin Harris made some really big-time moves,” Johnson said.
Enough to give Johnson a 1-0 lead against his first assistant to get an NBA head coaching job. The rematch is March 12.
“Except for the two games we play them, we want Sam to do well,” Johnson said. “He’s done an awfully good job in a transition year with a young basketball team.”
The Mavericks were without F Brandon Bass, who flew back to Dallas to get his sore right Achilles’ tendon examined. An MRI was negative, and Bass has not been ruled out of Friday’s game. … Dallas was 3-of-17 on 3-pointers and Charlotte shot 3-of-18. … The Mavericks and Phoenix Suns are the only teams the fourth-year Bobcats have never beaten.