He lines it up and splashes it home. The Phoenix Suns lead, which seemed insurmountable just moments ago, is now down to five midway through the third quarter. It's at this point and time that I love Monta Ellis with all of my heart.
The funny thing is, maybe 20 minutes ago, I hated Monta Ellis. With every fiber in my being. I watched him lazily stand pat as Eric Bledsoe rained in back-to-back pull-up jumpers to give the Suns a seven-point lead in the second quarter. I just hated him right there.
I hated him because there was no effort. No attempt to close out, no arm outstretched to try and block Bledsoe's sight of the rim. Nothing. I cursed to myself out loud and alone in my apartment.
Sometimes Monta Ellis is so bad he turns you into an insane person who talks to himself with no one around. But sometimes, like that three-pointer in the third quarter, he fills you with such basketball joy that you feel like you're going to rocket off your seat and blast through the roof.
I've never watched a player like that before. Monta Ellis does have it all -- the highs, the lows, everything.
* * *
There really hasn't been a hotly debated off-season move for the Mavericks like the Ellis signing in years. Typically Dallas goes for low-risk, high-reward veterans by sweetening the deal with longer-than-desired contracts. Erick Dampier, Keith Van Horn, Allen Henderson, Antoine Wright, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler. A bunch of guys that will probably help you and if they don't? Well they'll still serve some sort of purpose.
Ellis wasn't that guy. He was a guy who could explode in their faces, hijack an offense away from the most efficient superstar of the generation. His two season with the Bucks were awful. Why was THAT guy coming to the Mavs?
There was hope. Hope that playing with Dirk Nowitzki would open up those driving lanes, free himself for easier jumpers and just make his basketball-ing a lot easier. Even then, it was still a hard sell for a guy who was coming off seasons of 43.3 and 41.6 percent shooting.
That game against the Hawks on opening night raised some eyebrows. "A non-Dirk Mav scored 30? Wow!"
In true Monta fashion, he tiptoed the apparent giant line of great and terrible throughout the month. His defense wasn't any better and the thinking was if Monta isn't scoring, he isn't helping.
His on-again, off-again nature began to settle into the minds of all us Mavericks fans. We watched as he took our breath away in scoring 37 against the Rockets in November. He made us hurl our remotes at him when he would turn the ball over eight times in a loss to the Raptors in January.
There's almost no defining Monta. He is an enigmatic player who enters in strong just as easily as he can leave with a whimper. Just look at all the great things he's done. He's shooting 44.8 percent from the field, his best mark since 2011.
He's third in the NBA in drives per game and LEADS THE LEAGUE in points per game off drives. He hit that game-winner against Portland. He's awesome.
Yet, he has just a 16.70 PER. He doesn't play defense and he turns it over a bunch. He misses free throws late in games and has some really silly turnovers.
Monta Ellis is maddening. Yet I can't imagine the Mavericks without him.
Despite those turnovers, those missed free throws, that defense, that very pedestrian PER...what would the Mavericks look like without him? How in the world would the offense do anything since Dirk is becoming less and less of an isolation threat as each day passes us by? I try to imagine the Mavericks without Ellis' sublime ability to attack the paint and create. Whether that's layups for himself or lobs for Brandan Wright. I keep thinking that the Mavericks should probably trade Ellis this off-season and sign Lance Stephenson to replace him.
But I just can't imagine these Mavericks without that Ellis -- warts and all.
I once thought a few months ago that Devin Harris might be a better fit than Monta, since Devin can do things that Monta can do and play some defense. A few months later and Harris is shooting 37.6 percent from the floor and Ellis is dropping 37 points on 15-of-23 shooting in a game where the Mavericks clinched a playoff spot.
I'm sorry Monta Ellis.
* * *
Monta Ellis takes a pass and flies to the basket. He barrels into Goran Dragic's awful charge attempt and banks in the tough layup. Plus the foul. The free throws brings the Mavs to within 85-84 early on in the fourth quarter.
A few plays later, Ellis dishes the ball to a wide open Dirk. Swish. The Mavericks have their first lead in the fourth quarter. I enjoy Monta Basketball.
Ellis is locked in defensively. It's like an out-of-Monta experience. He's actually playing defense. He swipes the ball from Channing Frye and races toward the hoop and rolls in a beautiful lay-in over Eric Bledsoe. The lead is five. I'm rather fond of Monta Ellis.
On the next possession, Ellis sprints over a Dirk pick and needles his way to the baseline. He spots an open Devin Harris at the top of the arc. Pass made, shot delivered. The lead is eight. I am in love with Monta Ellis.
It's under two minutes and the lead is now down to six. Ellis misses an awkward step-back jumper. Ellis then blindly throws a pass behind him, leading to another quick bucket. The lead is down to two and I hate Monta Ellis.
He would later go on to make 2-of-4 free throws in the final seconds, leaving the door open for the Suns to tie the game. They would miss, thanks to the defensive heroics of Brandan Wright. I've spent the past three minutes fuming over late-game Monta Ellis.
Now the game ends. The Mavericks are one win away from ANOTHER 50-win season. Ellis has scored 37 points, dished out five assists, had five turnovers, missed three free throws and played one half of bad defense and one half of badass defense.
Monta Have It All. Have the good and the bad. I'll have another drink. But I'll be watching.