Welcome back to the playoffs, Dallas.
Down 13 points in the third quarter, the never-say-die Mavericks surged back to beat the Suns 101-98 thanks to Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis combining for 44 points in the second half.
"The reason we won is because we had one of the best players on the planet in Dirk," head coach Rick Carlisle said. "And because Monta Ellis, at the time we needed him most, stepped up and played his biggest game of the year."
The duo finished with 60 for the game on 23-of-38 shooting, holding off the resilient Suns. Down three, Eric Bledsoe twisted his way into the lane and looked to have a good chance at a layup that could have extended the game, until Brandan Wright erased the shot off the backboard. The scramble for the loose ball was enough to drain the final seconds, and a raucous American Airlines Center exploded at the sound of the buzzer.
The outcome looked much more grim early on, though. Up 33-28 early in the second quarter, the Suns finished the quarter on a 29-13 run that felt like it might bury the Mavericks. For a crucial game, Dallas looked lethargic and uninspired, forcing unnecessary shots and committed catastrophic turnovers that the athletic Suns easily turned into baskets.
But Dirk and Monta weren't ready for that just yet. After going down 13 points with a sluggish first half of the third quarter, Ellis hit consecutive 3-pointers from the left corner -- his sweet spot this season where he shoots 58 percent -- before handing the baton to Dirk, who buried a couple of his own. The second was vintage Dirk, dribbling down the floor on his own after a rebound and just pulling up when he reached the vicinity of the 3-point line.
It's not the Maverick way to ever make the end of a game easy, but after Dirk shocked the Suns for an easy layup by rolling to the basket instead of popping to take an 88-87 lead, the squad hung on just enough to win.
Walking out of the locker room, a note on the whiteboard said the Mavericks team picture will happen on Monday. Although a crucial game against Memphis on Wednesday still looms, it's likely the Mavericks will be grinning ear-to-ear when the photographer asks them to smile. Despite the gut-wrenching, ankle-turning, frustration-building nature of this season, it's at least going to end in with a playoff run.
- What a show by the pair I lovingly refer to as "MontaDirk." Facing a soft interior defense, Monta himself mentioned how much room he had to drive and operate in the paint in the game -- it was just a matter of attacking. And though he mixed in a handful of jumpers at opportune moments, Ellis still was at the peak of his aggressiveness, slashing in for a season-high 37 points on the night. He's a monster when he reaches the peak of his game like this, and the Mavericks needed every point he gave them (fortunately, they did not need the two missed free throws in the final minute).
- And then there's Dirk. He started the game off with a running, one-handed jumper across the lane that recalled memories of every playoff series he's ever played with, and I quickly declared "Playoff Dirk" was back. And then, just as quickly, the Suns were able to frustrate him. He missed some 3-pointers. His passes out of the double teams were deflected and bounced away to no one in particular. He looked slow and old playing a Suns team who have an average age of 26.
- But like Carlisle said: "He just stayed in it mentally. He told me before the game that he was ready to go 48 minutes if he had to. And I knew that wasn't going to be possible, so I felt like if we could get him some decent rest in the first half because we would have to rely on him more in the second half, and we did."
- They did, to the tune of 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting. He was magnificent throughout, and we are so lucky to have him.
- I said before the game that Dallas probably would need 30 minutes from Brandan Wright, and he more than delivered. His 12 points were an afterthought to these much more important stats: 32 minutes, 11 rebounds and three blocks -- including the one in the final seconds. Sure, it helped that the smaller, not-as-muscular Phoenix Suns bigs fit his style. But Wright still had to deliver, and he did.
- If you look at the box score, the most surprising part has to be the 5:47 minutes played from Shane Larkin. Sure, he had an 18-point performance against Phoenix earlier this year, and Carlisle does love the three-guard lineup. But the rookie gave the team just a bit of a spark -- culminating in a corner 3-pointer to finish the first quarter.
- Huge win. Huge game. I'm writing an Aftermath when I get home, so check for that tomorrow. Other than that, it's three days off before facing Memphis with playoff implications. Enjoy them.