The battle for the final few spots (and seeding) in the Western Conference playoffs is shaping up to be the most exciting story of the last weeks of the NBA regular season. As such, any meeting between two involved teams takes on something close to the importance of a real-live postseason matchup. These are the games to watch as we head towards the playoffs.
If Tuesday night's game between the Golden State Warriors (45-28, 6th place) and Dallas Mavericks (44-30, in a three-way tie for the West's final two spots) at American Airlines Arena is any indication, then we're in for quite a treat as these teams fight to get into the postseason. In a wildly exciting and hard-fought battle, the Warriors and Mavs fought to a standstill through four quarters full of runs and scoring swings. Then things got really fascinating in overtime.
A three-pointer from Jose Calderon gave Dallas a 120-118 lead with 42 seconds on the clock in the extra period. The Warriors went two-for-one on the next possession and managed to find Jermaine O'Neal for an easy dunk with 28 seconds left, which ensured that they'd get the last shot of the game. That last shot turned out to be for the win after Monta Ellis had his lay-up attempt block by O'Neal. (There was initial discussion that this block might have been a goaltending violation, and replays aren't especially conclusive.)
Then, on the last shot of the game, Stephen Curry did this:
With only 0.1 seconds available, the Mavericks could not answer on the subsequent inbounds pass. This 122-120 win puts the Warriors two games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns with eight left to play, which suggests they're in good shape in terms of locking up a spot. The Mavericks, meanwhile, have dropped a half-game behind the Grizzlies and Suns with seven games of their own left on the schedule. Oh, and the Mavs' last two games of the season just happen to be against those two teams, as well.
Curry's amazing winner came on one of his now-patented pull-up jumpers, proving both his flair for the dramatic and the sort of individual brilliance that has made him one of the most popular stars in basketball. He had a solid, efficient night with 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting (plus 10 assists), but it was the contributions from secondary players that helped the Warriors to the win. Jordan Crawford had 19 points on only 10 shot attempts and kept the Warriors afloat during a trying second quarter in which the Mavs scored 41 points, and forward Draymond Green continued to display his solid all-around game with nine points, seven rebounds, six assists (including the one that got O'Neal his tying dunk), and a team-best plus-12 in 42 minutes while starting in place of the sidelined David Lee. As a team, the Warriors shot 57.1 percent from the field and hit 15-of-31 from beyond the arc.
Despite some defensive lapses, it's hard to say that the Mavericks were especially lacking in this game. Top scorers Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis combined for 60 points on 24-of-44 shooting, and the Warriors have had these kinds of hot-shooting games before. Rather, it seems that there are just nine very good teams in the West, and one of them is sadly going to miss out on the postseason. The fans of whichever team suffers that fate will presumably be quite upset, but for neutrals this competitiveness will make for some truly fantastic late-season basketball. We're seeing it already, and it's likely we'll get a lot more before the end of April 16.
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