Monta Ellis owned the fourth quarter, exploding by his man with 4:46 left in the fourth for a shot clock-beating layup. That bucket sparked a 10-0 run from Ellis, who hit a long jumper and a couple of 3-pointers to put the Mavericks up 14 with 2:20 to play.
It's never quite that easy with Dallas, though. Give credit to Kyle Lowry and the Raptors' crowd at the Air Canada Centre, who refused to let up. The Mavericks' always horrendous 3-point defense gave up back-to-back 3-pointers to Greivis Vasquez, and after a couple of Dirk free throws, Lowry hit a gorgeous step-back over Tyson Chandler to make it a six-point game with 49 seconds to play.
Although breaking a full-court press is supposed to be one of the most fundamental abilities in basketball, the Mavericks looked a bit like the uncle who insists he knows how to cut the turkey but ends up butchering it against the grain. First, there was a seemingly hour-long replay review after Amir Johnson tipped out a wild pass intended for Dirk (seriously, let's get those refs shot clocks).
On the next play, Monta Ellis got it with a full head of steam at the basket. For a moment, it looked like he could beat the only Raptor defender to the glass, but it turned into a contested shot that he missed -- up six with less than a minute to play. That's like failing to put whipped cream on your pumpkin pie.
In the meantime, Kyle Lowry proceeded to hit five consecutive quick layups before missing a 3-pointer in the game's closing seconds. A clutch 2-for-2 trip to the line from Devin Harris a couple ticks earlier meant that it wouldn't have mattered, and the Mavericks narrowly pulled out the 108-104 win.
Dirk Nowitzki had another off shooting tonight (6-of-19, 1-of-7 from 3), but still hit a couple big fourth quarter shots and one 3-pointer, putting him next to Kobe Bryant as the only player in NBA history with 1,500 made threes and 27,000 points. But the Mavericks pulled through without him, and regardless of the stress-inducing final two minutes, this is the best win of the young Mavericks season. Only the Bulls can make the case to be a better team in that conference, but give Toronto home court advantage and I totally understand why people are saying they could make it to the Finals.
The Raptors did lose DeMar DeRozan to a groin strain, but he was scoreless (0-of-8 shooting) before leaving with the injury. The Mavericks' defense struggled in spots, but considering the Raptors sit just a spot behind Dallas with the second-best offense in the league, they were impressive. Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler each played very well, while Al-Farouq Aminu was incredible in his 24 minutes.
The opening minutes of the first quarter had you wishing your afternoon, tryptophan-inspired nap from turkey leftovers had kept you awake just a few minutes longer. It was the same story -- a 10-0 run, a couple open opposing 3-point shooters, and missed open looks.
Fortunately, the rest of the half was much smoother -- a little like mashed potatoes, you could say. After going 18-of-90 from 3-point land in the previous three games, the Mavericks' 3-point shooting finally game on strong, starting 6-of-8 and finishing 11-of-26 -- not record-setting, but much better than it had been.
- Aminu finished 5-of-6 with two 3-pointers and a huge block off the glass. It's no coincidence the Raptors didn't get anything from their wing defenders tonight -- Terrance Ross was 3-of-8 and as mentioned before, DeRozan was scoreless in the 20 minutes he played.
- Related: Al-Farouq Aminu 'breaks' the Toronto backboard.
- Carlisle aggressively subbed offense for defense in those final two minutes, taking both Dirk and Parsons out in favor of Aminu and Crowder. Of course, Crowder was at fault for one of Lowry's quick layups, possibly two (Lowry blew by Parsons, too, so what's Rick gonna do?).
- Defense notwithstanding, this was Parsons' best game probably since the first week of the season. He shot 6-of-11 for 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and used the floater a few times. In Vegas right after Parsons was signed, Cuban talked about how he had the best floater in the league by percentage and hit about 50 percent on those shots in 2013-14. On drives this year, Parsons has locked into either shooting or passing too far away from the basket and failed to adjust if the other option presents itself. I'd like to see him adjust to the defense better, and if he can start mixing in some floaters -- well, that's just the gravy on top.
- Give J.J. Barea an extra slice of pie after that game. With Nelson and Felton both still out, he came off the bench for five points, nine assists and three steals. He's an imperfect player and we all know that, but he understands the flow offense so well and is perfect at not letting the ball sit for a second -- even if his constant movement sometimes means he dribbles into a bad turnover. Is there any one still wondering why the Mavericks brought him in?
- Rick Carlisle doesn't care about your camera.
- On Saturday, the Mavericks play the 76ers. I'd give Dirk the night off, personally. He's played 32 minutes in each of the last three games after playing 32 minutes just twice all season, and his jump shot just looks a little heavy and tired right now. In theory, it might prevent any slippage against a team the Mavericks beat by 53 earlier this season -- without Dirk, the rotation guys know they have to step it up.