By Mike McGraw
The Bulls had one of those 48-minute issues on Saturday afternoon in Dallas.
Thanks to the sharpshooting of Nate Robinson and others, the Bulls seemed to have a quality road win locked up against a team fighting for its playoff life.
But then Dick Nowitzki led the Mavericks on a game-closing 15-1 run to hand the Bulls a stunning 100-98 loss at the American Airlines Center.
While the Bulls missed 3 of 4 free throws in the final minute, Nowitzki canned a midrange jumper to close the gap to 1 point, then buried a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds on the clock for the game-winner.
Dallas’ long-time star finished with 35 points, hitting an amazing 14 of 17 shots from the field.
“This was definitely a tough loss,” Kirk Hinrich told reporters after the game. “We just didn’t finish it out. They have a lot of guys with lots of experience and I give them credit.”
The Bulls had several hot shooters. Nate Robinson was a perfect 7-for-7 from 3-point range. Robinson, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer each scored 25 points and combined to hit 30 of 49 shots from the field.
When Dallas closed the third quarter with a 10-0 run to tie the score at 75-75, Robinson opened the fourth with 3 baskets from 3-point range and a short runner, putting the Bulls ahead by 9. Robinson later drained a 35-footer as the shot clock was about to expire, putting the Bulls in apparent command at 91-83 with six minutes left.
“It wasn’t good enough,” Robinson said of his hot shooting. “We played hard, going to the basket. I guess the ball just didn’t fall.”
The Bulls led 97-85 with 4:07 remaining after Deng drained their 12th basket from 3-point range. From that point, the visitors missed 6 straight shots and tossed in a couple turnovers.
Just to make things a little easier for the Mavs, the Bulls also sent them to the foul line. Boozer was called for a loose-ball foul as Jimmy Butler missed a driving layup. Former Bulls guard Mike James walked to the other end and hit 1 of 2 free throws to trim the margin to 97-92 with 1:25 left.
After a Deng miss, Nowitzki missed a 3-pointer, but the Bulls couldn’t secure the rebound. given another chance, Nowtizki knocked down a 3 to make it a 2-point game with 53 seconds left.
Robinson missed a driving layup and Boozer’s putback attempt rolled off the rim as a foul was called. He hit 1 of 2 at the line to put the lead at 3 points.
Nowitzki cut it to 1 with 27 seconds left and the Bulls got a couple of breaks. First, Dallas was called for a kicked-ball violation as Robinson lost it in traffic, then Butler was fouled with 15.9 seconds on the clock.
The referees ruled it a flagrant foul on Vince Carter at first, so they could look at the video replay, then changed it to a common foul.
Butler’s free-throw percentage was approaching 90 percent at midseason, but with a chance to put the Bulls ahead by 3, he missed both attempts, setting the stage for Nowitzki’s game-winner.
“I’m not going to say I was nervous, because I was really confident,” Butler said in the locker room. “I’m supposed to be a good free-throw shooter. I stepped up and missed 2. I don’t care what anybody says, that’s the reason we lost the game. If I would have made those 2, we would have been up 3 and we just make them go to the basket. This one’s on me, without a doubt.”
The Bulls (39-32) used their same short-handed lineup. Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) and Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain) continued to rest, while Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton remain sidelined indefinitely.
This would have been a big win if the Bulls intent to grab homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. At the start of the day, they trailed Brooklyn by 1 game in the loss column. They play the Nets on Thursday, and a win by the Bulls would clinch the season series 3-1.
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