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'It's a tough one': Mavericks blow 7-point lead in final minute, Harden powers Rockets to overtime win

James Harden scored 49. Luka Doncic recorded another triple-double. And the Mavs and Rockets returned to the 2020 season with a 302-point thriller.
Credit: AP
Houston Rockets' Robert Covington (33) and Dallas Mavericks' Kristaps Porzingis (6) compete for the opening tipoff at an NBA basketball game Friday, July 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP)

ORLANDO, Fla. — In their first regular-season game in 142 days, the Dallas Mavericks scored 149 points, third most in franchise history.

Only once in the Mavs existence had they lost a game when they've scored at least 141 points. They were 12-1.

Make that 12-2.

The Mavericks had not played a regular-season game since they defeated the Denver Nuggets, 113-97 on March 11. It was the night the sports world screeched to a halt due to COVID-19.

After 142 days, the Mavericks return promised to be worth the wait. And for the most part, it was.

Luka Doncic versus James Harden always lives up to the billing-- even from an "NBA bubble" at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.

Doncic totaled 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists to record his 15th triple-double of the season.

Harden dropped a game-high 49 points (23 in the 1st quarter) on only 20 shots-- which is, quite frankly, absurd.

You could write an entire column about the former MVP's complete performance, which included nine rebounds, eight assists, three steals, and three blocks.

You could write an entire column about Mavs big man Kristaps Porzingis going berserk for 39 points and 16 boards.

You could write an entire column about Russell Westbrook's mosquito-like energy leading to 31 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists.

You could write an entire column about Trey Burke. Seriously. TREY BURKE.

And if the Mavs had won this game, this probably would have been a column dishing effusive praise for the free agent who scored 31 points (8-10 3PT) in his first game since re-signing with Dallas.

Alas, the Mavs did not win the game. They should have. But they didn't.

The Mavericks tied a franchise record with 85 points in the first half. They had the Rockets on the ropes in the second half.

Then came the habitually ominous Mavericks 4th quarter.

After a blazing hot 36 minutes, Dallas couldn't hit the side of a barn.

Doncic finished 1-9 from 3-point range and missed some critical free throws, which has been a consistent issue for the 21-year-old phenom.

The offense grew stagnant. They ran out of gas. Only 20 points in the 4th.

"We tried to slow it down," Porzingis admitted after the game. "The pressure was up and we tried to cruise and win the game. Or, not lose the game. We have to keep playing aggressively and attack."

This game was microcosm of the 2019-2020 Mavericks.

It showcased their otherworldly 115.9 offensive rating -- the most efficient offense in NBA history.

And it displayed their clutch offense, or lackthereof -- the second worst in the league.

(Clutch offense: final 5 minutes with point differential 5 or less.)

Meanwhile, the Rockets kept shooting. Westbrook kept flying. Harden kept scoring.

With 45 seconds left, the Mavericks lead was seven. SEVEN.

In the NBA, that's as close to "game over" as you can get without, you know, the game being over.

With 5.2 seconds, the lead dwindled to three with Harden going to the free-throw line.

Harden made the first. Mavs lead down to two.

Harden missed the second, but Rockets forward Robert Covington found a crease and tipped it in.

Tie game.

On a night when seven players scored 20+ points, the man who made only four shots delivered the biggest bucket of the night.

Basketball, amirite?!

According to ESPN Stats & Info, teams were 2-711 when trailing by 7+ points with less than a minute to go in regulation.

So, this wasn't any ordinary Mavericks 4th quarter collapse. It was an extra historic one.

"It's a tough one," Porzingis said. "We have to take lessons from this game. I feel like we have to find the positives in this tough loss and learn from it."

Overtime ensued and the Rockets did what the Mavericks could not: put the game to bed.

Final score: Rockets 153, Mavericks 149

"We're a young team," Doncic responded after the loss. "We've got a lot to learn. We'll get better for sure. I know we're going to get together when it matters most, so I'm not worried about that.

302 combined points. 

Defense, optional. 

100% worth the wait.

"That was a fun game," Porzingis noted. "That felt like a playoff game."