Down 3-0 and with their backs against the wall, it was going to take an energetic, complete performance for the Mavs to extend the series and push it back to Houston. That’s exactly the type of game Dallas played in Game 4, putting together one of their best games of the season, and just in time.

The Mavericks will now turn their attention to Game 5, as the club won’t have much time to think about how they extended their season. Game 5 is tomorrow night at 7 p.m. CT, less than 48 hours after Game 4 even tipped off. The best thing about not playing, though, is that we can revisit what happened in Game 4 without having to worry about defending James Harden and Dwight Howard. Let’s leave that to the pros and, while we’re at it, check out how they did it.


There’s been way too much Monta Ellis in Games 3 and 4 as far as Houston is concerned, but just enough for the Mavs’ taste. He scored a combined 65 points in the two contests on a very efficient 28-of-49 shooting, and his performance in Game 4 was one of his best of the season, as he attacked the rim all game long. His shot chart says it all: 6-of-6 at the basket is a pretty impressive feat, especially against a rim protector like Dwight Howard.


Ellis is at his best when he attacks the basket, especially early in the shot clock. We see this every now and then when an opponent makes a basket. If the defense doesn’t get in position quickly, specifically the center, Ellis is going to turn on the burners and attack the bucket. The Rockets went very small for much of Game 4, playing four guards next to Dwight Howard or Josh Smith for large stretches of the contest, which gave the Mavs’ 2-guard a much clearer path to the rim. Without bigs to protect the paint, Ellis ran wild.

For the series, Ellis is shooting 11-of-17 in transition, per Synergy Sports, good for 64.7 percent. Only Stephen Curry, Houston’s Corey Brewer, and Jimmy Butler have scored more points in transition than Ellis. If he can continue driving to the basket early in the shot clock, it will force the Houston defense to get set quicker, causing the Rockets to expend more energy. In addition, as has always been the case, if Monta gets going downhill, the defense naturally sucks in over the course of a game, leaving the perimeter open for players like Dirk Nowitzki to take advantage of the extra space. Ellis is the key to this offense, and he was in top form Sunday night.


Rick Carlisle had searched and searched for the right formula after both Chandler Parsons and Rajon Rondo were sidelined for the rest of the season earlier in this series. In Game 3, he turned to Richard Jefferson and Raymond Felton in the starting lineup, but in that game it was the play of JJ Barea and Al-Farouq Aminu that stood out the most. So when it came time to declare starters for Game 4, it only made sense that those were the two to get the nod. They did, and they came up huge in the Mavs’ win.

Both players finished with double-doubles — Barea with 17 points and 13 assists, Aminu with 16 points and 12 rebounds, four of them offensive. Both played a season-high in minutes, too, but it looked the entire time like they belonged.

The offense has performed beautifully with Barea running the show in this series. Per, the Mavericks have scored 121.4 points per 100 possessions with Barea on the floor against Houston, and the team has a 58.3 true shooting percentage during that time. (True shooting measures shooting performance on all shots, including free throws.)

The Mavs outscored Houston by 32.3 points per 100 possessions in Game 4 with Barea on the floor as the offense hummed to the tune of a 130.6 offensive rating. Barea’s command of the tempo had a lot to do with it.

“He’s always a guy that’s going to battle,” Carlisle said. “He’s relished playoff opportunities. That’s been the pattern of his career. He’s played big for us a lot while he’s been here. I just think that’s how he’s wired and how he approaches it.”

Aminu, too, made an impact on the offensive end, but it was his defense against James Harden which stood out the most. Aminu has the length and foot speed required to stay in front of the shifty Harden, who has good size (6′ 5″ with a 6′ 11″ wingspan) for a shooting guard. His Game 4 opponent, Aminu, though, boasts a wingspan longer than 7′ 3″, which gives him the advantage when it comes to defending Harden’s patented Euro step drives.

There aren’t many people on the planet who can both stay in front of Harden for 30 feet and also block his floater. What an incredible play by Aminu.

“He’s one of our most relentless workers,” Carlisle said. “He’s earned this opportunity. He impacted the game in a lot of ways tonight.”

As for Aminu’s thoughts? “I always try to provide energy and defense. I’m just trying to keep on doing my job,” he said. Ho-hum. Gotta love it.

The Mavs simply don’t win this game without his defense and Barea’s command of the offense, and Dallas will need those two to contribute at a similar level for the remainder of the series.


The “great Nowitzki,” as Carlisle called him after Game 3, was stupendous down the stretch yet again. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter on 4-of-6 shooting, mixing in all sorts of moves to give Dallas the closing boost it needed as Houston attempted a comeback.

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Dirk has averaged 8.0 points on 47.4 percent shooting per fourth quarter in the playoffs, which is in line with what he’s done for the whole of his career. Nowitzki is so good that, when he has the ball when the game matters, you never think that he’s going to miss. He’s a really special player, but you already knew that. What you might not have known, however, is that Nowitzki’s career average of 25.5 points per game in the playoffs ranks tied for 11th all-time among players with double-digit postseason appearances, and only five players ahead of him on the list have a higher field goal percentage. Pretty impressive stuff.

Everything clicked for the Mavericks in Game 4. The team played with pride, energy, and willpower, but also mixed in excellent shotmaking, tenacious defense, and strong rebounding. Dallas was the better team in all phases, and that’s what you have to do to win in the playoffs. We won’t have to wait long to see whether the team can repeat its performance in Game 5.

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