The Dallas Mavericks beat the team with the best record in the NBA, on the road, on the second night of a back to back.
It may not have been pretty, but this was an impressive win for a team that needed a bounce-back after being thoroughly demolished in Charlotte 24 hours ago.
As the final score should indicate, points were not coming in bunches for either group. Monta Ellis led all scorers with 23, but as important as his offense were the gritty plays down the stretch, diving for loose balls and competing on defense. Monta grabbed nine rebounds and even had a pair of blocks. Ellis has shown little sign of wear from the injury he suffered a few days ago, and with Devin Harris out tonight he stepped up in a very big way.
The Pacers are likely shaking their head after this one. No-one managed to crack 15 points, and as a team they shot 32% from the floor. You know that's bad because it made Dallas' 35% seem somewhat reasonable.
The game got a little testy at points, which seems to be a regular occurrence for Dallas when David West is involved. West and Dirk Nowitzki got into a bit of a tussle late in the second quarter(very familiar if one remembers his days with the Hornets), and both Ellis and Jose Calderon also got a little physical at times with their Pacer counterparts.
The Mavericks have won games by outshooting teams this season. They've won plenty of those infact. But to win a grind-it-out matchup is an encouraging sign that Rick Carlisle is getting through with his defensive message. Indiana put up just 11 points in the final quarter and could not capitalize on any of the numerous opportunities to take control of the game.
This is a pretty good way to head into the All-Star Break, no?
After playing to a 19-19 standstill in the first quarter, Dallas took the lead in the second quarter, reaching a margin as high as seven early. A couple of Danny Granger threes and some free throws(fouls were frequent tonight), and Indiana shrunk the advantage to just two going into halftime.
In the third quarter, Indiana managed to muscle their way back into the lead(their first since the middle of the first quarter), and it appeared they might win simply by attrition, as both teams didn't crack 60 points until under three minutes left until the final period.
But a couple of things happened in the fourth. First was the insertion of Brandan Wright, who had barely stepped on the court prior to that point. Wright converted all of his field goal attempts for the game in that quarter, and was one of only two Mavs to make a field goal at all then.
The other was Ellis, who is my pick for star of the game. Ellis was huge down the stretch, taking advantage of an aggressive Pacer defense by drawing fouls and making nine of ten free throws(again, all in the fourth).
Those two produced essentially all in the offense Dallas would need to pull out the win, but it obviously can't be overstated just how important the play at the other end was. It's a pretty shocking transformation, considering last night I had nightmares of wide open three point shooters letting it fly in Charlotte.
Now, the Pacers also helped out a bit. They missed a few open jumpshots. George missed a point-blank layup after a turnover that would have made the Dallas lead just four with a minute and a half left. David West and Lance Stepehnson had missed key layups in that quarter, as well.
Still, any time you hold a playoff team to 73 points, you deserve praise. I don't know where this defensive effort came from, or if we'll see it again any time soon, but for one night we saw the benefits of terrific coaching helping to finally bond a roster.
Dallas gets some much needed rest, and they've earned it.
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