It was the same one-dribble, 21-foot pull-up jumper Monta Ellis had hit all season. The only difference was this one was a game winner.
(via i.imgur.com and DFWTrojanTuba's comment below)
The Dallas Mavericks squeezed by the Portland Trail Blazers in exhilarating fashion, winning 108-106 in a game marked by vintage Dirk down the stretch, peculiar refereeing and mostly, Monta having it all.
The Ellis heroics were set up by a stranger play involving him nine seconds to go. On a Mavericks in-bound, he received the ball, expecting a foul -- which he got, as Batum bearhugged him from behind and Wesley Matthews slapping at the ball from the other side. But strangely, despite the contact, no foul was called and the ball was ruled out of bounds off Monta after replay.
A few seconds later, Damian Lillard pumped faked and buried a shot over Shawn Marion. Back to the replay, where it appeared so obvious that his foot on the line -- except that none of the angles explicitly showed his foot on the line. The call stood and the Mavericks had two seconds to break the 106-106 tie.
Monta answered the call, dancing past an excellent DeJuan Blair screen to hit the game winner, and down with Portland on its home floor for their fourth loss of the season and second at home.
In general, the Mavericks offense looked much sharper than its past few games. Although Vince Carter hoisted up some horrible shots in isolation and Monta did the same, the ball movement that helped develop the Mavericks as a top five offense early in the season was back and better than ever.
But when it came to winning time, ball movement was replaced with a simple pass to Dirk. And he delivered. Once, twice, several times throughout the final quarter with the ease of a pocket watch ticking on to the next second. Between he and Monta, they went 6-for-9 down the final 4:47, good for 14 points (hattip to Michael Dugat for that stat, aka @mdug).
What a game, against none other than the Western Conference leader. I'll drop some bullet points below in the next thirty minutes.
- No, but seriously, Dirk is a dirty man in the best possible way. We take his 12-22 shooting for granted at this point. After Damian Lillard had dropped consecutive three pointers, he was the one to answer back. And honestly, the biggest question wasn't whether he'd hit them, but whether he could get the ball. Rick Carlisle's playcalling down the stretch was on point, queuing up perfect plays all around. Apparently, the play that Monta won the game on was implemented in the morning shootaround. Nice timing.
- The Mavericks got back to running the pick-and-roll involving Calderon, Dirk or Monta. Good things happen when you run that play. Good things happened tonight.
- Speaking of Calderon, he was crucial tonight. 7-for-10 shooting with just one three-pointer attempted. How, you ask? He made buckets. Really, it was just smart offense -- the Portland offense didn't guard him to drive, so he kept going to the rim and making relatively simple layups. It was no more obvious on a Dirk pick-and-roll. He had found some room on the wing and Aldridge, standing under the rim, jumped out to cover him. The entire arena thought Calderon was going to pass, but he took a dribble and got right to the rim. Never doubt basketball IQ.
- Dallas was outrebounded by 14 and outshot on the free throw line by 13. Good shooting (53% from the field and 8-for-16 from three) pulled it out for them.
- Actually, the free throw stats are weird, because it was a season-high 54 points in the paint for the Mavericks. DeJuan Blair was fantastic inside, going for 15 and 8. His night was marred by four fouls that forced him to the bench prematurely, but it's hard not to love everything about his game. His touch on some of the layups he was hitting was simply majestic.
- Yes, I just described DeJuan Blair as majestic. Get over it.
- I guess I have to address the Vince Carter issue. He was bad. Real bad. And his 4-for-13 statline was misleading -- even his makes were crazy Vince shots that are exciting, but not high percentage. It easily could have been just one or two makes for him tonight if he doesn't reach way back in his bag of tricks for some crazy shots. Oh, don't forget the four turnovers.
- Basically, he's never been effective in isolation since coming to Dallas, and now his pick and roll skills are eroding, too. A good point by @nickswarriors16 while I was tweeting is that Carter and Brandan Wright had great chemistry last year, so maybe his impending return will help. But even then, Vince's role in Dallas is just too big -- or maybe it's the role Vince thinks he has in Dallas.
- Shoutout to Gal Mekel, who looked like a backup NBA point guard tonight. Hit three of his four shots, including a couple nice finishes in the lane, and even drained a three pointer to end a Blazer run. Bravo.
- I enjoyed the defensive work the Mavericks did on LaMarcus Aldridge, befuddling him while in the post. He still finished with 19, but only on 7-for-16 shooting, looking nothing like the MVP people have been saying he might deserve (not if LeBron is alive). They doubled with a single guard from the baseline seemingly at random, and LMA never looked comfortable in the post there. If you know LMA, you know he owns the post. Great game plan by Dallas.