By Will Martin
Truly this was a weekend to fully immerse yourself with in the sports department. Local Dallas Jesuit kid Jordan Spieth played well into the weekend and almost making history. You had a Texas Hoedown of a Silver Boot Showdown in Arlington for three nights that were truly entertaining with the Rangers and Astros.
Friday Night the Dallas Stars made the locals happy as Team Lindy Ruff made a return to the promised land of Lord Stanley’s Cup and (I am told) with quite a celebration inside the American Airlines Center.
Indeed there was excitement in Frisco as first place FC Dallas took on the Seattle Sounders for an interesting night of play under windy conditions. Which left us with the final piece of the Texas puzzle-The Dallas Mavericks.
Going into the fall I clearly recall saying that this Maverick team could and should win 50 games and get in as a 7th or 8th seed. When the trio of DeJuan Blair, Monta Ellis, and Jose Calderon was brought into the fold and the anticipation of a Devin Harris return mid-season there was reason to believe this nucleus of talent (buffeted by Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, and Vince Carter) could compete on any given night.
Even when losing double digit leads or performing poorly in overtime the Dallas Mavericks of 2013-2014 are back in the playoffs courtesy of an exciting 101-98 victory over the Phoenix Suns Saturday night at the AAC.
This despite a terrible start by Dirk Nowitzki in the first half with only 2 points and Phoenix jumping out to an 11 point advantage at the half. They overcame a 13 point deficit in the second half behind a 37 point performance by Monta Ellis. Ironman Monta played every game this regular season and when crunch time arrived Ellis was more than equal to the challenge.
Dirk Nowitzki was very vocal last season about missing the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
“That was our goal and it’s been a hard fight,” 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs, which is normal in a long 82-game season, but we grinded it out. … We felt like our playoffs started early this year and that was a playoff game tonight again. Just a fun game to be a part of against a very good and explosive team. It feels good to be back in the big dance. I mean, that’s where competitors want to be — on the big stage and in the playoffs. It’s fun to be back.”
Indeed the Dallas Mavericks are back and not without a little history to talk about as Vince Carter entered the match seven points behind Adrian Dantley for 25th place all time in scoring. Early in the second period Carter would pass Dantley when hitting a three as Dallas was enjoying a 33-28 lead. Channing Frye would then lead Phoenix on a 15-2 run that had some 20,000 Mavericks Maniaacs in a state of ‘uh-oh’.
Dirk Nowitzki would catch fire in the 3rd period after a shaky 1 for 6 first half when connecting twice from downtown late and assisted by the hot shooting by Ironman Monta. Three periods in, Dallas trailed the Suns 78-75.
Period four there was a collective job of defending and shot-making. Shane Larkin would key a three while the Mavericks would look to pull away with a 97-89 lead. Eric Bledsoe had other ideas. In the end it was Brandan Wright providing a few necessary blocks of shots as four Mavericks would collect double digits in a 101-98 thriller that ensured Dallas a playoff spot in between tie-breakers and whom their opponent could be as a #7 or #8 seed. Likely opponent Oklahoma City or San Antonio.
Still, to hear some of the Mavericks players talk about getting into the playoffs you heard a common theme of team. Something Monta Ellis addressed post-game.
“I don’t think it was just me. I think we came together as a team,” Ellis said. “Even when we were down , we came together as a team, got stops, got out, ran and got some open threes in transition. We played Mavs basketball, so I think it was a total team effort. It wasn’t something that I said I have to do. It was one of those nights where the ball was going down and my teammates did a great job of getting me open.”
Dirk with his 23 points had nothing but high praise for his teammate and his 37 point night/leadership ways.
“I thought there Monta just got hot,” Nowitzki said. “He shot us back in it with two threes in the corner and then the three behind the screen when I set the screen to pull within one. He was phenomenal tonight and he was shooting it well. He left it all out there on both ends of the floor.”
“This just felt like a playoff game,” Ellis added. “You know, we made one and the crowd got into it. We made two or three and it was like they never sat down, so we all were keyed in. In an environment like that when we’re at home, it just gives us a different kind of boost. I just think it was the environment and the energy in the building.”
Remember how Rick Carlisle joked about the law of averages and liking his chances? This was the Coach’s take after the game.
“The reason we won is because we have one of the best players on the planet in Dirk and because Monta Ellis at the time we needed him most stepped up and had his biggest game of the year, and he played the whole second half. We couldn’t get him out of the game,” Rick Carlisle cooed . “Those two guys led the way … and just holding the line when they made the run. It’s pretty clear we are not a perfect team, but with our imperfections we have to have an understanding that we really need each other. That kicked in, in the second half, and that made the difference.”
Of course while one can be happy that a playoff berth is now in Mark Cubans immediate line of sight one has to wonder if the Mavericks have learned the lessons of what they’ll need to do if they want to close out games, be competitive at the very least with whomever they shall go up against.
I’m reminded of this conversation I caught with Jose Calderon as we go down memory lane.
No matter who Dallas plays: The Thunder, Spurs, or Clippers so long as there is a collective effort for this team (having improved 8 games from 2012-2013) able to at least go deep in the first round of the playoffs Mavs fans can be happy at the turnaround.
Congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas stays busy until at least the Byron Nelson with playoff sports. Now lets see if the Cowboys and Rangers can follow suit.