Even as his team was overcoming its difficult history of losses to Dallas, Jazz point guard Devin Harris confronted his own personal past. Since leaving the Mavericks in 2008, Harris has struggled to play well against his former team. In fact, the former all-star has averaged only six points in this season’s three prior matchups with the Mavs. Harris put all that behind him tonight, scoring 23 points on 47% shooting. He also made five three-point baskets, including a crucial shot late in the third overtime period.
Regulation play turned out to be little more than a footnote in this grueling contest of wills. From the very outset, the sharpshooting Mavericks dictated the style of play, shooting 34 three-point shots on the night. More importantly, they forced the Jazz out of their offense and into a shooting contest. Averaging only 31% from behind the arc this season, the Jazz shot an uncharacteristic 28 three-point shots in tonight’s game. As a result, the team finished regulation well below its average of 50 points in the paint.
Despite being forced to play an unfamiliar style of basketball, the Jazz managed to keep the game close. For most of regulation, Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter put on a two-man show for the Mavericks. Nowitzki finished the game with a game-high 40 points, hitting numerous big shots. Carter and Terry provided very effective back-up, adding 18 and 27 points respectively.
Notwithstanding the spectacular play from several Dallas players, the Jazz managed to hold a comfortable ten-point lead early in the fourth quarter. That lead quickly vanished, however, as the Mavs made six three-point shots in the final period. Trailing by two points with seconds remaining, Paul Millsap flew in from the wing to dunk a Hayward miss and send the game spiraling into a series of arduous overtime periods.
The shootout continued into post-regulation play. In the extra 15 minutes of basketball, the two teams combined for fourteen three-point attempts. Jazz big man Al Jefferson finished the game with an astonishing 28 points and 26 rebounds. Despite effective execution on the offensive end of the floor, defensive mistakes and missed free-throws hurt the Jazz tremendously during extra play. The Jazz missed a total of 15 foul shots across three overtime periods, several of which could have ended the game. With the opportunity to take the final shot in each of the first two overtime periods, the Jazz failed to capitalize on multiple opportunities.
Fittingly, it was Devin Harris that finally took control of the game in the third overtime period. With fewer than two minutes remaining, Harris made a crucial three-point shot to break yet another tie in the game. He also made two last-minute free throws to seal a victory over his former team.
“I think we are more experienced with three overtimes,” said Harris after the game, facetiously referring to an earlier, similar contest in Atlanta. “We’ve been there before so I think we just fed off that. We didn’t panic when we got down, and we made some shots. So I think that the four-overtime game in Atlanta really helped us out.”
With the victory, the Jazz remain very much in control of their future. The team now sits just a half-game outside of the coveted eighth and final spot of the Western Conference playoff standings. In order to secure that spot, however, the Jazz will need to demonstrate continued passion as they face a struggling Portland team on Wednesday night.