PORTLAND — The thrill returned to the Rose Garden on Sunday night, but ultimately, the losing streak rolled on.
Rookie Will Barton, like a trusty pinch hitter, came off the bench and provided the Trail Blazers with an unexpected spark. Behind Barton's energy and highlight night, Portland astonishingly had a chance to tie the score in a game in which it once trailed by 26 points.
However in the closing seconds, the ball found the Blazers' other standout first-year player and Damian Lillard opted for a quick score, instead of a potential game-tying 3-pointer. Lillard went to the rim but missed the layup and the Mavericks held on for the 96-91 win.
Barton — who has the word "Thrill" tattooed down his left leg and customized on his Under Armour sneakers — played 32 minutes and reached his NBA personal best of 22 points, while also registering career-highs with 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals.
During the first half that drowned the Blazers under a 26-point deficit, starter Wesley Matthews sprained his right ankle and never returned to the game. After the game, Matthews wore a walking boot over his right foot and exited the locker room in crutches. According to coach Terry Stotts, X-rays were negative.
When Barton stepped in as Matthews' replacement, the Blazers began the second half down 56-32. However, Barton dunked, defended, rebounded and assisted the Blazers back to within 94-91 with 39.4 seconds remaining.
"We looked pretty down, the crowd was out of it," Barton said. "Things weren't going our way and anytime you get a run like that and get the game back close, I was just happy for that. No matter if I was playing good or not. We made a remarkable comeback. That's what's important."
Afterwards, several teammates appeared enlivened by Barton's buoyant performance, in spite of the fact that the Blazers (33-44) dropped their eighth consecutive game for the longest losing streak since the 2005-2006 season.
"I was glad we bounced back after halftime," Stotts said. "I was proud of the way guys responded after half. Will Barton had a terrific game and pretty much was the catalyst for how we played in the second half."
The Mavericks started the game with a 9-0 spurt and early on, the defense failed Portland as Dallas center Chris Kaman surpassed his season average before the first quarter had expired.
Kaman finished with a season-best 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. But as Kaman slowed down his scoring rate, Barton picked up with his loose and frantic style of play.
Barton did not rest through the second half, revealing his full repertoire and pulling the Blazers within 10 points with back-to-back alley-oop finishes assisted by Eric Maynor.
"It was great to see him finally have that game where he shows not only the coaches but the world what he can really do," center J.J. Hickson said. "Tonight was a great night for him."
Then, Barton made a pair of free throws and reduced the Mavericks' lead to 94-91 but the rally stopped there.
When O.J. Mayo responded by missing a 3-pointer, the Blazers secured the rebound and called timeout with 12.5 seconds remaining. Lillard got the inbounds pass but could not convert at the rim, and the Mavericks ran out an easy fast break before the buzzer.
On Wednesday, the Blazers will meet the Los Angeles Lakers and try to avoid matching the 2005-2006 team with a nine-game losing streak.