Heartbreak in Big D

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

DALLAS -- There are tough losses and then there are excruciating losses.

File the latest Raptors defeat under the latter category.

Poised to end the Western Conference-leading Dallas Mavericks' franchise record home winning streak, the Raptors wilted horribly down the stretch and rewrote an unfortunate chapter in their own franchise record book.

The Mavericks erased a 24-point third-quarter deficit en route to a 115-113 overtime win over the Raptors yesterday at the raucous American Airlines Center, marking the largest comeback victory for a Toronto opponent in franchise history. Dirk Nowitzki's 18-foot fadeaway jumper over Matt Bonner with one second left in overtime gave the Mavs their 14th win in a row at home.

"It's not the fact of us getting tentative, we've just got to step up and make plays," Raptors point guard Mike James said in a near-silent Toronto dressing room. "Dallas made the plays, Dirk made the plays he needed to help the team win. It's another game we had in our grasp and we allowed it to get away from us at the end."

Toronto's previous biggest blown lead came when the Raptors spit out a 21-point bulge in a 93-91 loss against the Boston Celtics Nov. 3, 2000.

Leading by 24 with six minutes left in the third and 17 entering the fourth, the Raptors never could land the knockout punch. The game turned when the Mavericks converted six consecutive three-point plays (one from the foul line and five from long range), narrowing the Raptors' lead to seven. With Charlie Villanueva, Chris Bosh and Mike James all in foul trouble, Toronto went to a zone and the Mavs lit it up.

"We didn't get to the free-throw line, we didn't rebound, we turned the ball over and we still had an opportunity to win the basketball game," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said. "We just make mistakes. You've got to know who you're guarding. You'd think that would be obvious by now."

The Raptors almost won the game at the buzzer in regulation, but James' layup rolled around the rim and out after Nowitzki got a piece of it. Villanueva, Bosh and James all entered overtime with five fouls and Villanueva fouled out before the period was a minute old. Still, the Raptors hung around and tied it at 113-113 when Bonner hit an open three with 12.4 seconds left.

BIG-SHOT BONNER

But the Mavericks called timeout and got the ball to the red-hot Nowitzki, who hit the kind of tough shot he has been hitting his whole career. With the longer Bosh having five fouls, Mitchell elected to put Bonner on Nowitzki.

"We can't get Chris his sixth foul in case we go into another overtime and I've got my best player sitting on the bench," Mitchell said. "Somebody else has got to try to guard him. I thought Matt did a good job. He hit an (18)-foot fadeaway jump shot. What do you say?"

On the Raptors' last-ditch possession, Jose Calderon's in-bounds pass was tipped and Morris Peterson's wild shot found air.

"How many (lessons) are we going to learn?" Mitchell said. "I can count 12, 13 games that have been like this."

Nowitzki scored a game-high 32 points, while Bosh, a Dallas native, led the Raptors with 29 in front of about 50 friends and family members.

REPORT CARD

B- Offence: Their final point total was rather high, but the Raptors turned the ball over too many times -- 17. Their offence was not clicking during crunch time in the fourth

C- Defence: The Mavericks hit three-pointer after three-pointer in the fourth as the Raptors couldn't execute their zone defence.


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