With his team’s playoff hopes coming down to the final three games, Deron Williams blocked out a painful sports hernia and returned to the floor Sunday night.
In his first game since March 23, D-Will finished with 15 points off 6-of-11 shooting in 29 minutes, to go with four rebounds and three assists. But it wasn’t quite enough on a cold collective shooting night, as the Dallas Mavericks lost at the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, 98-91.
“(The pain is) something I’m pretty much going to have to deal with for the most part,” said Deron. “But I feel pretty good. We came up short today after being on a six-game winning streak. So I’m definitely not happy about that.”
Deron’s energy was evident from the start. No. 8 rolled in a layup for his first basket on his way to totaling eight points in a half that featured 10 lead changes and nine ties. D-Will instituted one of the ties, feeding Dirk Nowitzki on a jumper to tie the game at 10 midway through the first quarter.
“He was aggressive, especially in the first half,” Dirk said of Deron. “I liked how he pushed on the break and tried to get in the lane and collapse the defense. I think when a guy comes back from injury, you look at how he moves, and I thought he looked great.”
No. 8 followed that up with a pair of free throws to put Dallas up two, but J.J. Redick answered with a three to put the Clippers back ahead by one. L.A. held that lead through the remainder of the first quarter.
The Clippers kept the Mavs at arm’s length throughout the second. D-Will hit a couple of jumpers to cut the L.A. lead to two during the period, and that’s where it stood at the break, with the Mavs down 49-47.
But the Mavs came out of the half flat, as the Clippers outscored the Mavericks 27-12 in the decisive third quarter.
Deron was held scoreless, as Dallas shot 17 percent to L.A.’s 47 percent in the period. But despite trailing 76-59 with 12 minutes to play, the Mavs didn’t go down without a fight.
No. 8 connected on back-to-back buckets early in the final frame to fuel a 23-11 run.
“He did some of the things that we know he can do,” said fellow guard Raymond Felton, who totaled a team-high 21 points off the bench. “You can still tell he’s not quite 100 percent, but at the same time, for him being out and the things he did, I think he looked good.”
With the spurt, Dallas got as close as five, 89-84, with 3:46 remaining, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the 17-point deficit.
The loss made it just a one-game lead for the Mavs over the Utah Jazz, and a two-game cushion between them and the ninth-place Houston Rockets. With two critical games left, coach Rick Carlisle knows he needs all he can get out of his point guard.
“I thought he played well today, considering he’s been out a couple of weeks,” Carlisle said. “We need every healthy body we can get, but again that situation is going to be hour-to-hour, I would think.”
The seventh-seeded Mavericks (41-39) look to gain ground on the eighth-seeded Utah Jazz (40-40) on Monday, with tipoff at Vivint Smart Home Arena set for 8 p.m. CT. Monday’s contest will determine the tiebreaker, as the series is currently locked at one.
The Jazz most recently defeated the Denver Nuggets, 100-84, on Sunday after falling to two of the top teams in the West, the San Antonio Spurs (65-15) and the Clippers (52-28).
Utah is fronted by small forward Gordon Hayward (19.7 points, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals) and center Rudy Gobert (11.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks per contest).
WESTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS – 4/11
7. Dallas Mavericks (41-39) 30.5 GB
8. Utah Jazz (40-40) 31.5 GB
9. Houston Rockets (39-41) 32.5 GB