The series was tied, 1-1. That wasn't supposed to happen. But it did.
Coming into Game 3 of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, I was a girl on fire. In my first season with a press credential and with just enough basketball knowledge to be dangerous, I'd seen the highest of highs and lowest of lows live that season. I went to almost every Mavericks home game. I sat just back from the baseline at STAPLES Center for the most gut-wrenching Mavericks loss of the season (to the Clippers). I went to New Orleans for the All-Star Game, to marvel at Dirk taking shots with Stephen Curry in a quiet Smoothie King Center before what may well have been Dirk's last ASG. I was at the amazing game against the Suns that clinched the Mavericks' playoff fate in that crazy three-team race for the last two spots in the West.
Don't ask me how all that happened. I'm still trying to figure it out. I had never been to a NBA game before November 2012. And I had no clue that the best was yet to come. How could I?
And yet here I was, walking into American Airlines Center, wearing my favorite navy blue and white polka dot dress and what had become my "lucky" black patent leather heels. And it was the playoffs. And the Mavericks were supposed to be down 0-2 coming back from San Antonio, except they weren't.
To be completely honest, I don't remember terribly much about the game itself. I remember it stayed close, as a lot of the games in that series did. The funny thing about being in the press box, is you're working. You're tweeting out the live action for the fans, or taking notes for a recap, or thinking about what questions you're going to ask later. It's almost unfortunate: you kind of can't be a fan. You often don't have time to sink in those smaller moments that happen between timeouts or while you're trying to capture the scene in the building or describe the latest cool thing going on with Dirk or Monta Ellis or whoever.
And you are definitely not allowed to cheer from the press box. I try really hard, but you can ask anyone who I regularly sit with: I am not good at that rule.
With a few seconds left in the game, Manu Ginobili -- whose name we Mavericks fans all cursed throughout that series -- made a contested layup to put the Spurs ahead by two. There were 1.7 seconds left on the clock. A vast majority of those in the press box headed for the elevators to get downstairs for the press conference after a presumed Mavericks loss. A few of us stayed. It seemed like an eternity between when Ginobili hit that shot and Jose Calderon inbounded the ball. We few left debated what play Carlisle would come up with. After all, the whole series had been a master class in basketball tactics between Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle, two of the best coaches in the NBA.
One of the best games of the Mavericks' season had come much earlier in the season. It was against the Trail Blazers, at Moda Center in Portland, where the Mavs won on a last second shot, inbounding to Monta Ellis as he ran to the top of the key. I followed that game on Twitter, after an insane ice storm in Dallas took my power out. (I was supposed to be writing the game recap that night.) It was a surprising and bold play call, and it won that game. For the rest of the season, we called it the "Portland Play." Everyone knew what it meant.
As those of us left in the press box mused about what the play call would be, we all wondered aloud: the Portland Play? It can't be the Portland Play. Popovich isn't stupid -- he's seen the Portland Play. He'll be expecting it.
As Calderon got set to inbound, Monta started making his move to the top of the key. Those of us left in the now mostly empty press box collectively held our breath. It WAS the Portland Play.
Instead, Calderon kicked it to Vince Carter in the corner, who sank it for three to win. I am not good at press box rules. I jumped up and screamed. I screamed some more. I hugged Bobby Karalla, who was jumping up and down and yelling next to me. Tim Cato, ever the consummate professional, did not scream. He is way better at press box rules than I am.
The Mavs led the series, 2-1. If 1-1 wasn't supposed to happen, 2-1 REALLY wasn't supposed to happen. But I'll never stop thanking Vince Carter for making it happen.