Postgame: Raymond Felton

Mavs G Raymond Felton dishes on his clutch play down the stretch of Friday's OT win over the Nuggets.

At halftime, the Mavericks needed a change.

Dallas had fallen behind the Nuggets by as much as 23 points in the second quarter, due to a slow start from the field, a few sluggish turnovers, and red-hot Denver shooting. Toward the end of the second, however, Dallas appeared to have found something: a lineup including Dirk Nowitzki at the 5, Chandler Parsons at the 4, and Raymond Felton as the primary initiator erased half the deficit and gave the Mavericks the offensive kick they needed.

The change Dallas made at intermission — to start Felton instead of Zaza Pachulia out of the break — is probably a one-game adjustment, but that adjustment worked awfully well. Felton was terrific after the break, finishing with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, six assists, four rebounds, and a key steal late in the game. To put it simply, he brought a level of dynamic play we haven’t seen from a Mavs guard in some time. He finished +30 on the night, in a game that went to overtime.

“Ray’s a gamer. He’s a big-game guy,” Rick Carlisle said after the win. “He’s been coming through for us all year in a lot of these instances, but I don’t know if any effort was bigger than tonight’s.”

Felton has closed plenty of games for the Mavericks this season, most notably an early-season win in Houston when Dallas was without Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, and Wesley Matthews. Last night, however, those three players watched from on the floor instead of from the sideline as the combo guard carried the offense down the stretch. He hit his final five shots from the field and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a game-tying layup with 10 seconds left. Dallas trailed by nine points with 1:50 left.

“I’m the type of person that I don’t shy away from anything,” Felton said. “I’m not scared of anything.”

A huge source of the Mavericks’ offensive efficiency in this game was the Felton/Nowitzki pick-and-roll. With Nowitzki playing the center position, the Nuggets were forced to go small, meaning if Nowitzki’s man didn’t switch over to Felton, Denver risked conceding wide-open layups. Either that, or the defense had to collapse to limit the penetration, which meant open looks for Dallas shooters. Altogether, Dallas scored 78 points on 57 possessions in which an attacker got the ball into the paint via drive or pass, good for 1.37 points per possession. The Mavs have only reached that level of efficiency on that volume of possessions three other times this season, winning every game. The last time they scored more than 78 points off of paint attacks was in a January win against Minnesota, when they also went very small with Parsons at the 4.

“When you’ve got a guy like Dirk Nowitzki, they’re scared to leave him because he’s such a great shooter,” Felton said. “When I come off that pick, that big man has to make a decision: Either you’re gonna leave him or you’re gonna have to leave me. They weren’t leaving Dirk and it was giving me an open lane to the basket, so I was just trying to do a good of of either finishing or finding someone else.”

Dallas going super-small with a Parsons/Nowitzki frontcourt might not be easy to replicate in future games, as much will depend on the matchups. For example, with games against Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Vucevic, and DeMarcus Cousins on the horizon, it would almost be unfair to expect the German to bang with those big guys on the block. That’s where Zaza Pachulia and the other Mavericks centers will have to step up. But the smallish big duo finished the game +30 — identical to Felton’s rating — so it’s hard to deny the unit’s potency. We’ll see if Carlisle turns to it again, but one thing’s for sure: If things aren’t going well for the Mavericks, the head coach is never afraid to make changes on the fly to give the team a chance to win. Against Denver, that was the change that needed to be made.

That he followed through with that change only illustrates the importance of each individual contest moving forward. Carlisle recently called every remaining game on the schedule a “Super Bowl.” Dallas is mired in a tight race for the playoffs, fending off Portland, Houston, and Utah from behind and looking ahead to catch Memphis for fifth place. These teams are packed together, and when that’s the case, every single game matters, especially when they come at home. The Mavericks might not have two weeks to prepare for each game like it’s the Super Bowl, but Dallas must take that kind of mental approach. That doesn’t just go for the starters, either. As a reserve on a Carlisle-coached team, you never know when your moment will come. But when it does, you’ve got to be ready to help the team.

“Every game going forward is gonna be the biggest game of the year,” Carlisle said.

This was the Mavs’ biggest win of the season simply because it wasn’t a loss. That’s how it’s going to be the rest of the way. On this night, Felton not only answered the bell, but he closed the door on Denver.

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