The Mavericks had a host of memorable moments last season. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll rewind the tape and take a look back at five of our favorite games from the 2013-14 campaign. Comments? Suggestions? Drop us a line below.
Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, and just about everyone else associated with the Mavericks organization said heading into training camp that their season goal consisted of two parts: 1. Make the playoffs, and 2. Make some noise once they get there. We know now that, yes, Dallas ended up making the playoffs, and that the Mavs also gave the eventual Western Champs Spurs all they could handle and then some in the opening round. But through 80 games, the playoff picture wasn’t quite so clear.
Despite their 48-32 record, Dallas had still not locked down a playoff berth in the loaded Western Conference. With just two games left on the schedule, and fresh off a tough loss at home to those same Spurs, the Mavericks were in position to finally clinch the elusive spot they’d chased all season. Their opponent: the Phoenix Suns, one of the two teams with whom they’d been grappling with for playoff position all season long. The other, the Memphis Grizzlies, would be waiting for the Mavs in Tennessee for Game No. 82 for both clubs. Needless to say, Nowitzki & Co. wanted to wrap up the playoff clincher at home. No one wanted to go to Memphis needing a win just to qualify for the postseason.
But the Suns were equally desperate. They too had a matchup against Memphis on the other side of their game against the Mavericks, and as they only trailed Dallas by half a game heading into the teams’ meeting, a win would put Phoenix in great position the rest of the way. The Mavs and Suns, longtime rivals during the latter half of the 2000s, would have one last epic battle that would see one team make the playoffs, and leave the other in a very difficult position moving forward.
Mavs eclipse Suns
Monta Ellis scores 37 points with Dirk Nowitzki adding 23 points as the Mavericks beat the Suns and clinch a playoff berth Saturday night.
By halftime, Phoenix appeared to be the team playing with more desperation. The Mavs trailed by 11 at the break, and Nowitzki suffered through a 1-of-6 first half. Channing Frye found himself open for four three-pointers in the first six minutes of the game, and Eric Bledsoe carried the Suns’ offense as their other point guard, Goran Dragic, was playing through an ankle injury.
The Suns would push their lead to as high as 13 toward the beginning of the third quarter, and Dallas found itself with its back against the proverbial wall. But led by Ellis, the Mavs would claw their way back into the game. Monta hit back-to-back threes midway through the frame to bring Dallas within 5, 69-64. It was then Dirk’s turn to show off his long-range shot, hitting back-to-back bombs to shrink the Suns’ lead to 72-70. Collectively, Nowitzki and Ellis were 8-of-12 from the field, including 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, in the third quarter. They would combine for 44 points in the second half alone, and Ellis finished the game — perhaps his best regular-season showing as a Maverick — with 37 points.
Head coach Rick Carlisle did not manage this game as if it was a typical regular season affair. He gave Shane Larkin first-quarter minutes and DeJuan Blair didn’t see the floor. Nowitzki uncharacteristically played the entire third quarter and began the fourth on the bench for a brief rest, which is something we haven’t seen in years. Carlisle meant business, and he tried everything he could to give Dallas an edge.
And it worked. Dallas took its first lead of the second half on an old-fashioned, unfamiliar play: Nowitzki set a pick for Ellis, and then rolled to the rim. We’re used to seeing Nowitzki fade to the corner or pop to the three-point line after setting a ball screen, and judging by the Suns’ reaction, they weren’t expecting the roll either. Harris would then feed Nowitzki for a three-pointer that would give Dallas a 92-89 lead with 4:33 left. Nowitzki scored 21 points in the second half on 7-of-10 shooting. Ellis converted on a layup half a minute later for good measure, and Dallas never surrendered the lead again.
However, the Suns would not go quietly. The Mavs missed a few shots and Phoenix caught fire, and all of a sudden the Dallas lead had completely eroded away, shriveling to 100-98. Phoenix’s Bledsoe drove the lane with 12 seconds left on the clock, and that’s when Brandan Wright made the biggest play of the season.
Block of the Night: Brandan Wright
With the game on the line, Eric Bledsoe drives strong for the layup and Brandan Wright gets the big block to keep the points off the board.
He rejected Bledsoe at the rim, and Ellis would hit one free throw to stretch the lead to three. Phoenix’s Markieff Morris would miss a desperation three-pointer on the next possession, and Dallas won not only the game, but also a ticket back to the playoffs.
“The reason we won is because we had one of the best players on the planet in Dirk,” Carlisle said after the game. “And because Monta Ellis, at the time we needed him most, stepped up and played his biggest game of the year. And he had to play the whole second half — we couldn’t get him out of the game. Those two guys led the way, and then a couple stops at the end — Wright with a block, good positioning, and just holding the line when they made the run.
“It’s pretty clear we are not a perfect team, but with our imperfections we have to have an understanding that we really need each other,” he added. “And that kicked in in the second half and that made the difference.”
Said Ellis on the three-point barrage in the second half, and the energy the raucous AAC crowd provided: “This just felt like a playoff game. We made one (three-pointer), and the crowd got into it. And we made two or three and it’s like they never sat down. And so we were all keyed in, and in an environment like that when we’re at home just gives us a different kind of boost with the environment and energy in the building.”
Nowitzki, meanwhile, was much more concise with his description of the game.
“I thought we just left it all out there,” he said. And after playing 39 high-pressure minutes and hitting some of the biggest shots of the season, it’s safe to say he was telling the truth.
Postgame: Dirk Nowitzki
Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki comments on Saturday's big win over the Suns, how good it feels to be back in the big dance and more.