C.J. McCollum hits game-winner to win wild late-game duel with Dirk in Dallas

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C.J. McCollum and Dirk Nowitzki went shot-for-shot down the stretch on Tuesday. (Getty Images)
C.J. McCollum and Dirk Nowitzki went shot-for-shot down the stretch on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

Sometimes, in a matchup between two teams that thrive on getting buckets but can struggle to prevent them, it all comes down to who gets the ball last. Unfortunately for the Dallas Mavericks, on Tuesday night, they left the Portland Trail Blazers just enough time to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

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After Dallas took an 89-88 lead early in the fourth quarter, Portland responded by ripping off a 13-0 run to go up 101-89 with 7:19 remaining. The Mavs promptly answered in kind, with Harrison Barnes, rookie Yogi Ferrell and vet Devin Harris sparking a 13-0 run of their own to regain the lead at 102-101 with 4:15 left. The two sides traded buckets into the final minute, when Dallas sprung a picture-perfect trap on Damian Lillard that forced a turnover, with Harris stealing and feeding ageless wonder Dirk Nowitzki for just the kind of transition 3 on which he’s made his money for nearly two decades, putting the Mavs back on top, 108-105, with 38 seconds left.

Blazers star scorer C.J. McCollum took back the lead four seconds later, punishing the smaller Ferrell en route to a short runner that made it 109-108, Portland. When the Blazers called timeout after Dirk’s previous triple, Carlisle replaced his veteran big man off the court with rookie swingman Dorian Finney-Smith in an offense/defense substitution. The Mavs had no timeouts of their own left, though, so after McCollum’s bucket, Dallas had to find a way to get a score without their top offensive player … and, naturally, a scramble possession ended with Harris attacking a closeout from the right corner, driving to the lane, contorting in the air to avoid attempted shot-blocker Al-Farouq Aminu, and banking in a layup to put Dallas back in front with 19 seconds left.

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Needing a reply coming out of a timeout after advancing the ball to half-court, Blazers coach Terry Stotts stationed McCollum in the backcourt, giving Portland’s inbounder a clear lane to get the ball in and giving C.J. a full court of runway to build up steam. He crossed over Harris at the 3-point line, dribbled left into the paint, got all the way to the rim and finished in traffic for an and-one layup to give the Blazers back the lead, 112-110, with 12 seconds remaining.

Dirk, of course, wasn’t too eager to let a visitor take over shot-making duties in his gym, stepping behind a Wesley Matthews screen for a catch-and-shoot left-wing bomb that found the bottom of the net:

But Nowitzki’s shot left 3.9 seconds on the clock for Portland to answer … and, as it turned out, that was more than enough time for McCollum to get the last word.

Matthews was all over his former teammate on the catch, with Barnes coming over to double. He wasn’t quick enough, though, as McCollum threw the ball out in front of him, split the trap, caught up to his dribble, took one more bounce to the free-throw line and lofted up a floater that fell softly through the rim with just 0.3 seconds left on the clock. Harris’ three-quarter-court prayer went unheeded, as the Blazers escaped an absolute thriller of a fourth quarter with a 114-113 win.

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McCollum carried Portland late, scoring 14 of his game-high 32 points in the final frame. Lillard added 29 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals with just two turnovers in the win. Forward Aminu (12 points, 11 rebounds off the bench) and center Mason Plumlee (12 points, a career-high-tying 15 rebounds, a game-best +23 in his 26 1/2 minutes) each notched double-doubles for the Blazers, who won for the fifth time in eight games to improve to 23-30, bringing them within one game of the Denver Nuggets in the race for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. In the process, they lost swingman Evan Turner, who had entered the starting lineup nine games ago but who fractured the third metacarpal in his right hand during the third quarter; how long he’ll be sidelined remains unclear.

Barnes led the way with 26 points on 10-for-19 shooting, while Nowitzki added 25 and Matthews chipped in 23 for the Mavericks, who fell to join the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans at 20-32 in the cluster of teams below Denver and Portland.

The Blazers came out of the gates hot behind the lights-out shooting of Lillard, building a 16-point lead in the second quarter as they looked to exact some revenge for Dallas’ Yogi-led 108-104 Friday night win. The ever-crafty Rick Carlisle’s club walked Portland down, though, with the frontcourt of Nowitzki, Barnes and Matthews pouring in shot after shot to blitz the Blazers’ defense and put Dallas back in front with 10 1/2 minutes to go, setting the stage for a wild finish. And man, did we ever get one.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!