Not dead yet, said the Mavericks in unison. They probably should be, after a highly public blowup from their point guard and after one of their most important players was lost for the series. But they're not.
The Dallas Mavericks came together for a 121-109 win on Sunday in a game that reminded you of everything that was good about basketball. Dirk Nowitzki hit signature shots, Monta Ellis found his rhythm and the team oozed pure fun for damn near 48 straight minutes.
Down 12 points early in the second quarter, it quickly became apparent that this was the Mavericks season hanging in the balance. On Friday, we saw what happened when the Mavericks trailed for most of the game. This team hasn't harnessed the magic that they thrived on in 2011 when trailing, probably because their lead sorcerer Dirk Nowitzki during that run is four years older and slower. For the Mavericks to regain their dignity in this series, no matter what happens for the rest of it, they had to push back.
They did just that. J.J. Barea started the game and led the second quarter charge, with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and three assists, too. He tied the game for the first time with a short jumper and took a 50-48 lead with another one, fading away and lifting it just up and over the defense like not-quite-life-sized replica Dirk Nowitzki.
Despite leaving points at the line -- late in the fourth quarter, they were 4-of-15 shooting free throws -- the Mavericks had an answer for the Rockets at every turn. Think back before Rondo, behind "coach's decision," before Amar'e and before fun left Dallas, there was a squad that torched nets and drop buckets as often as a Texan says "y'all." It was a great unit, a fun one, that we were reminded existed in Game 3. But they truly returned in front of a raucous American Airlines Center on Sunday.
Down the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Josh Smith -- clearly defective, from the way he kept making three-pointers -- tried to cause clenched teeth and nervous pacing about Maverick sympathizers everywhere. The Rockets whittled the lead all the way down to 10. But it didn't feel like a team waiting to eff it all up and blow a huge lead. There were Monta and Dirk jumpers, plus just enough defense to go around to clinch it. They were going to win this game even if the tornado warning outside blew the roof off the AAC.
Give a nod to Al-Farouq Aminu, who was absolutely incredible in 38 minutes of giving everything he had. He finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and a devastating defensive effort to single-handedly blow up what seemed like every Houston effort to score.
Game 5 will be played on Tuesday. It could be the end of the season but I don't care. The Mavericks came together with one hell of an effort on Sunday, and for that, give them a hand.