DALLAS In fewer than 10 seconds Thursday night, the Jazz descended from elation to deflation and the Dallas Mavericks went rolling into the NBA playoffs, the start of which now are barely more than a week away.
Reigning NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki hit the game-winner with 0.9 seconds remaining, answering a 3-pointer from point guard Deron Williams with one of his own to lift the Mavs over the Jazz 97-94 at sold-out American Airlines Center.
That, combined with Denver's victory over Golden State, locked up a postseason berth for 50-29 Dallas, which got a game-high 32 points with 12-of-23 field shooting from Nowitzki en route to notching an eighth straight 50-win season.
It also ended a four-game winning streak for the 52-27 Jazz, who in their last two outings merely upended two of the NBA's Western Conference top teams, San Antonio and New Orleans.
Moreover, it dealt a blow to the Northwest Division-champion Jazz's diminishing hopes of securing homecourt advantage for at least the first round of postseason play.
"It's a tough loss," shooting guard Kyle Korver said, "but better now than in the playoffs.
"We're obviously frustrated with the loss, but we feel like we played pretty good basketball the last few weeks, and we're not gonna let this distract from our ultimate goal," Korver added. "We're gonna try to finish the season strong ... and see what happens."
Late Thursday, though, the Jazz still were trying to figure out what in the world happened after Williams who helped rally Utah from 14 points down in the first quarter, and finished with a double-double along with 19-point team-high scorer Mehmet Okur tied the game at 94.
The Jazz point guard scored off an in-bounds play initiated by Andrei Kirilenko following a timeout called with 9.4 seconds left.
Williams banked in his trey from 25 feet out while blanketed by Devean George with 5.8 seconds to go and wound up on the floor afterward, but he didn't seem especially bothered by the fact no foul was called.
"I think I was just trying to flop a little bit," he admitted.
Williams similarly seemed to accept that with 11.5 seconds left he scored after being fouled by Jason Kidd, only to have an initial call of continuation by referee Mark Wunderlick overturned following consultation with fellow officials Steve Javie and Pat Fraher.
"I thought I picked the ball up before the whistle and I was already going up," Williams said. "He (Javie) tried to explain it to me and say that the foul occurred and the whistle was late that's why I had already picked up the ball."
Williams hit the two free throws stemming from Kidd's foul to pull Utah within one at 92-91, and Jason Terry answered with two freebies of his own to put Dallas up by three.
That was followed by the 3-pointer from Williams, who was still grounded when Nowitzki hit his winner.
Dallas had no timeouts remaining after Williams' trey, so Kidd immediately in-bounded to Eddie Jones. Jones raced up the left side of the floor and passed ahead to Nowitzki, who pulled up just in front of the 3-point line and just before the game clocked expired.
"You have the initial excitement of, 'Wow, that shot just banked in.' Then we just didn't get back on the defense, and they had numbers, and he hit a good shot, a big shot," said Korver, the only Jazz defender Williams, Kirilenko, Okur and Carlos Boozer also were on the floor who managed to get back on the play. "That's why he was MVP last year."
The Jazz seemed uncertain as to whether or not Dallas would a call a timeout to set up a play even though the Mavs didn't have one left.
"They were kind of yelling at first," Korver said. "I think, maybe, I don't know if they were yelling for a timeout or not. But then Jason (Kidd) satellited it, and we weren't back, and we should have been, and they got a good look, and he made it."
"It happened so quick. I fell on the floor after the shot, looked up and the ball was advancing," added Wiliams, who covered this time by Nowitzki also missed a last-second trey try in the game's final second. "Kyle (Korver) was back, pretty much by himself. I don't even know what happened, or how they got so open."
He was not alone.
"I don't know how exactly we got lost as bad as we did," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who also bemoaned the fact Utah yielded 20 first-half fastbreaks points. "But it's bad enough to give them a shot. Of course a great player like (Nowitzki), he's gonna make them."He was wide open, and who else in the world is gonna shoot it?" added Sloan, whose Jazz return home to face Denver on Saturday night. "I mean, we've got to have somebody to find it. But give them credit. They were able to scramble out of there and get what they wanted on it."
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