The best Mavs buzzer-beaters of 2015-16

We’ve already taken a look back at the best Mavs dunks and blocks of the 2015-16 season, so now all that’s left is checking out the buzzer-beaters.

For this list, we included attempts to beat the shot clock, for two reasons: 1. There’s a buzzer sound when the shot clock expires, and 2. These are just arbitrary rankings so we can make up the rules as we go! There’s a certain amount of freedom in bending conventional wisdom and mixing in a bit of improvisation when you do anything in life, and that includes both making rankings lists and free-styling toward the end of a quarter or possession. Once that clock gets below two seconds, as you’ll see in the video below, anything can happen. There are no rules and there are no limits. Zaza Pachulia can hit a fall-away 20-footer from “a Larry Bird angle,” to quote play-by-play voice Mark Followill, and Deron Williams can drain one practically from the opposing team’s bench. That’s what makes buzzer-beaters so exciting.

Enjoy! And, as always, if you think we missed one, let us know in the comments below which of your favorite buzzer-beaters were left out.

Top 10 Mavs Buzzer-Beaters of 2015-16

Take a look back at the best Mavs buzzer-beaters of the season!

10. D-Will to Dirk for 3

You won’t find many more meaningful wins in November than the one the Mavericks earned against the Clippers last November. It was the first time DeAndre Jordan’s team came to town since the dramatic twists and turns of last summer’s free agency period, the Mavs had lost three of their previous four games, and at the time a few of Dallas’ key players were still battling back from significant injuries. But the Mavs, sporting the skyline jerseys for the first time, came through with a huge victory against Los Angeles on national television, signaling to the NBA universe that this team would be just fine. Dirk Nowitzki’s buzzer-beating trey put Dallas up by 14 points in the third quarter in what turned out to be a 118-108 win. It might only have been November, but it was a big, big win for Dallas.

9. D-Will with the rainbow

Deron Williams’ first appearance in this top-10 list isn’t quite as unbelievable as his final one — more on that later — but this shot was still pretty nice: a Dirk-esque rainbow jumper from the wing on a pass from an off-balance J.J. Barea. The Mavs beat the Grizzlies that night, Dec. 18, 97-88. This Williams 3-pointer put Dallas ahead for the first time all night, 38-35, and the club wouldn’t trail again for the rest of the game.

8. Felton from wayyyy back

Raymond Felton hit so many big shots for the Mavericks this season that you might have forgotten about this one. On Jan. 6, the night after a double-overtime win against Sacramento — more on that later — Dallas was severely shorthanded in New Orleans as most of the starters were resting. That meant more playing time for Felton, who delivered 22 points and six assists in one of his best games of the year. Three of those points came on this play, with 42 seconds left in the game and Dallas clinging to a six-point lead. The impossible shot gave the Mavs a nine-point lead, which would ultimately be the final difference.

7. Matthews from the corner

Just one week later, on Jan. 12, the Mavs and Cavaliers would duke it out in a highly entertaining and tightly contested game at American Airlines Center. With just over two minutes left and the shot clock winding down, Chandler Parsons found a spotted-up Wesley Matthews in the corner for three, which put Dallas ahead 91-89. Unfortunately Cleveland would tie it up and ultimately win in overtime, 110-107, but Matthews’ big shot was a highlight in what was a thrilling contest.

6. Felton over LeBron

Felton’s only made field goal of that night came at a great time, as he beat the first-half buzzer even while taking contact from LeBron James, putting the Mavericks ahead 52-47. Again, how many big shots did Felton hit this season??

5. Zaza from the impossible angle

It might only have been preseason, but Zaza Pachulia’s turnaround fall-away miracle shot was still one of his most impressive highlights of his first season as a Maverick. At the time, it was no guarantee that Pachulia would be the starting center on opening night, as Samuel Dalembert was still on the roster at that point. But Pachulia’s play in the preseason earned him the starting rights, and the Georgian big man never looked back, putting together a fine campaign.

4. Felton with a crossover and step-back

What do you know, another big-time shot from Felton! Mark Followill even called this one, as we watched him whip and then proceeded to watch him Ray-Ray and drain a 21-footer as time expired in the Mavs’ 91-79 win against Brooklyn on Jan. 29. The story of that two-game homestand, featuring wins over the Nets and Suns, had more to do with defense, however, as Dallas kept both opponents below 80 points. Defense and tempo control would save the Mavs’ season down the stretch, so there was a bit of foreshadowing here.

3. Dirk from the wing

Watching Nowitzki 3s never gets old. This one, though, meant a bit more than your usual trey, as the Mavs needed every point they could muster to win a tight one against the Knicks on March 30, taking the contest 91-89. This was the second of six straight victories Dallas would piece together down the stretch to earn its 15th playoff berth in 16 seasons. Barea grabbed the headlines, scoring 26 points off the bench, while Nowitzki shot just 5 of 23 from the field. But, hey: Every point counts, and Dirk’s long-range bomb to beat the halftime buzzer meant a lot at the end of the day.

2. Felton does it just like they drew it up

Here’s the way the Mavs designed this play:

1. Beat your man off the dribble into the middle of the lane.

2. Spin and look to pass.

3. Pass it off the opposing center’s stomach.

4. Catch your own pass.

5. Fade away and shoot it over the backboard. Two points, easy.

1. D-Will wins the game, chaos ensues

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This bucket instantly became an iconic moment, as not only did the shot win the game, and not only did it end a disappointing two-game losing streak, but that moment showed us how close together the players on this team were this season. The dogpile on the sideline gave us an image that sums up this club well. These guys all liked each other, they all rooted for one another, and they celebrated with each other as brothers, not just teammates. That was as tight-knit a locker room as you could find in the league this season, and there’s no measuring what that chemistry did for the Mavericks this season.

Also, what a shot.

The best Mavs blocks of 2015-16

When you think of the Mavs’ defense, blocks might not be the first thing to come to mind. Only Detroit blocked fewer shots than Dallas this season, as the Mavericks instead turned their attention to overloading the paint in an effort to limit opponents’ shots at the rim, encouraging 3-balls instead. The Mavs allowed only 35.0 field goal attempts per game from less than 10 feet this season, per NBA.com, which ties for second-fewest in the NBA. So there weren’t very many opportunities to block shots, anyway.

But the blocks they did have were pretty vicious. Whether it was Justin Anderson, Salah Mejri, or someone else, the Dallas blocks highlight reel is just nasty. We’ve already seen the best Mavs dunks of the season, but today is all about swats. Check out the video below and let us know if we missed any of your favorite blocks.

Top 10 Mavs Blocks of 2015-16

Check out the Mavs' biggest blocks of the 2015-16 season.

10. Anderson introduces himself

This was one of the first of many significant highlight plays Justin Anderson would make in his rookie season. Late in a Feb. 3 game against Miami, Heat rookie Justise Winslow came away with the ball and went up for a reverse layup. Anderson was having none of that. Consider it justice served after the two players had a bit of an altercation last season in a Virginia-Duke showdown almost exactly one year earlier, when Winslow received a flagrant foul for grabbing Anderson’s leg and very nearly unleashing the beast. The best part of Anderson’s block (and ensuing roar) against the Heat was he compounded that good play into two of them, draining a corner three at the other end and sending the AAC crowd into a frenzy. That was when the rookie won this city over.

9. The rookie does it again

In a play very similar to his rejection of Winslow, Anderson did virtually the same thing to center Gorgui Dieng two months later, on April 3 in Minnesota. Dieng has a significant height and wingspan advantage over the 6-foot-6 Anderson, but the Mavs rookie has more hangtime than a 60-yard punt. If he has time to gather himself and jump as high as he can, he’ll be waiting for you at the rim, and in this instance he swatted it with authority.

8. Felton blocks the KAT

Poor Karl-Anthony Towns. The unanimous Rookie of the Year and star-in-the-making also found himself on the wrong end of the season’s dunk highlights list, but that obviously isn’t any indictment of him as a player. In this case, though, Raymond Felton got the better of him, as the 6-foot-1 combo guard swiped the ball right out of the center’s hands as he went up for what looked like an easy dunk. But not much comes easy when Felton is protecting the rim: He blocked 15 shots this season, the most of any of the Mavs’ four small guards.

7. Mejri chases down Roberson

Salah Mejri proved time and time again this season that he doesn’t give up on a play, no matter how far away from the ball he is. In this case, after a Mavs turnover, the 7-foot-2 center sprinted to the other end of the floor to chase down OKC’s Andre Roberson and erase his dunk attempt from this universe. He then held court for a quick second with his home fans before running to the offensive end. Mejri might lead the team in swag exhibited per 100 possessions, and that’s OK. Dallas could use more players like him.

6. Mejri adds a name to the list

We all know about Mejri’s infamous list, and he added another name to it with this impressive chase-down block of Houston’s superstar James Harden. Mejri begins the play off-screen; you can’t see him because he sprinted literally the entire length of the floor on this play to reject Harden. This Jan. 24 play came at an important time for Mejri, who hadn’t even truly cracked the Mavs’ rotation at this point. He’d scored his first career points less than two weeks earlier, but it wouldn’t take another two weeks for him to prove to everyone why he deserved more minutes.

5. Dirk doin’ work

Dirk Nowitzki has scored more than 29,000 points and has made a billion All-Star and All-NBA teams. You know that. But what you probably didn’t know is the German led his team in total blocks this season for the first time since 2009-10, and for the fifth time in his career. This one, bar none, was his best. It came in the second half of the Mavs’ playoff-clinching win in Utah on April 11. After sending Jeff Withey’s layup attempt into the next dimension, Nowitzki capped off the highlight by staring down his own bench as all of his teammates leaped to their feet in a combination of excitement and perhaps even a bit of disbelief. What a play.

4. Evans sends Davis’s shot soaring

Jeremy Evans’s season was unfortunately cut short due to injury, but early in the campaign he made an incredible block on the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis. Credit to Wesley Matthews as well on this play for racing to the other end of the floor and slowing Davis’s progress. But, I mean, what else can you say about Evans’s block? It was masterful, a combination of completely rude and absolutely wonderful. The forward’s vertical leap has been measured at 43.5 inches in the past. He makes plays like this one look routine.

3. Anderson chases down Ariza

With the Mavericks clinging to a one-point lead with 1:35 left in the fourth quarter against the Rockets, Harden advanced the ball downcourt to Trevor Ariza, streaking for a layup. A loss would have put the Mavs in a difficult position as they battled for a playoff spot, while a win would have put Houston in great shape. Everyone knew what was at stake. That included Justin Anderson. The wing flew through the air to slap Ariza’s layup off the backboard and launch a Mavs break the other way, and Dallas would go on to win the game. That was perhaps the rookie’s biggest play of the season, and it’s one of many he’ll make as a Maverick.

2. Mejri blows the roof off the AAC

If his chase-down block of Harden was enough to earn Salah Mejri minutes moving forward, his performance against OKC on Jan. 22 earned him the right to chase down Harden. The Mavs were down 15 points in the fourth quarter when Rick Carlisle inserted Mejri into the game and, in just eight minutes, the Mavs found themselves in position to shoot for the tie at the buzzer. Mejri had a lot to do with that, rejecting both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the latter of which was one of the best blocks by any Maverick this season. The Tunisian met the superstar at the rim and won.

1. Anderson breaks the game

This is just an incredible athletic play, and it’s the best block of the season.

Raymond Felton always got the job done this season, no matter the role

Raymond Felton Season Highlights

Watch some of the best highlights from Raymond Felton's 2015-16 season with the Mavs.

Point guard, shooting guard, starter, reserve: No matter how he was used this season, Raymond Felton always produced.

Felton’s season sort of came full circle in the playoffs. After leading the team in scoring as a shooting guard on opening night in October, Felton once again found himself at the helm of the Mavs’ offense in the final game of the season, but this time as a point guard. Injuries limited the club early in the season and late as well, yet Felton was there not only to fill the cracks, but also guide Dallas down Rick Carlisle’s offensive superhighway.

Chandler Parsons missed the entire postseason as he recovered from knee surgery, Deron Williams essentially missed the final three games of the playoffs, and J.J. Barea was severely physically limited in his four appearances. That meant a ton of responsibility was heaped onto Felton’s sturdy shoulders, but he was clearly up for the challenge. He averaged 15.0 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game against the Thunder, and became just the third Maverick ever to record both a points-assists and points-rebounds double-double in the same postseason, joining Michael Finley (2001) and Mark Aguirre (1986), per Basketball-Reference.

His ability to drive the ball was the contribution his team most sorely needed. With no Parsons and Williams and with a limited Barea, the perimeter wasn’t chock full of guys who could attack off the bounce. Felton certainly did his best to fill that void, averaging a team-high 8.6 drives per game in the playoffs, well above his season average of 5.3, per SportVU. Felton scored 5.2 points per game himself from those rim attacks, in addition to drawing three fouls across the team’s five playoff games.

His performance in Game 2 was perhaps his finest of the season, scoring a team-high 21 points as the Mavericks secured an 85-84 road win in Oklahoma City. After the game Felton said he was “sick” to miss two free throws which could have given the Mavs a bigger lead with less than 10 seconds to play, but a Thunder bucket on the ensuing possession came after the buzzer and, despite Felton’s frustration, Dallas won the game anyway.

This season’s Mavericks team could be characterized by its resiliency and sense of pride. On the heels of a disappointing performance in Game 1, the Mavs became just the fourth team in 14 tries in NBA history to win Game 2 following a loss in the series opener by 35 or more points, per Basketball-Reference. Plenty of players typified that mentality, but Wesley Matthews and Felton were perhaps chief among them. After the Mavs’ Game 2 win, Felton said his team’s Game 1 performance was simply below the standard.

“We all knew that that wasn’t acceptable,” he said. “That’s not Dallas Mavericks basketball. That was just a disgrace to the city of Dallas, to the fans of Dallas, and to ourselves and our families. It was just an embarrassment on national television to get beat like that. We were coming in for a dog fight no matter what. Even if we didn’t come out with the win, we were gonna come out and give them a fight.”

So what did he do as a response? He led his team in scoring, recorded a double-double, and Dallas got the win. That’s Raymond Felton for you.

It’s hard not to admire the various levels of swag Felton is capable of reaching on any given night. More than any other player on this team, you know when he gets cooking. Whether it’s some high-dribbling or a few between-the-legs crossovers, Felton has a tendency to let everyone know when he’s feeling confident.

And that led to one of the better Mavs videos of the season. (There’s a lot going on in here, so take your time going through it. Rewind if you have to.)

Watch them whip!

Watch the Mavs whip and Ray Ray!

As is the case with many others in the locker room, though, Felton’s attention is now turned toward free agency. The guard said during his exit interview that he’d love to be back in Dallas and plans on buying a home here whether or not he returns to the Mavs, but his basketball fate will not ultimately be determined for another two months. Felton played well enough from October through April to earn a new contract with the Mavericks, but plenty of other teams will surely have interest in the combo guard, especially after witnessing his play in the postseason. Felton stepped up to the plate when his team needed him most, and that’s a quality all 30 general managers in this league crave. It’s one the Mavericks were certainly lucky to have this season.

Raymond Felton’s double-double fuels Mavs offense in Game 2 win

Raymond Felton Layup

Raymond Felton gets the layup plus the foul.

Raymond Felton was experiencing an unfamiliar feeling late in Monday’s Game 2 win: sickness.

With less than 10 seconds left and his team ahead by one point, 85-84, both the guard’s attempts bounced off the rim, culminating in a wild OKC fast break heading the other way.

​The sequence might have been reminiscent of a similar situation earlier this season, in Boston, when Felton missed a pair at the line before he himself halted a haphazard Celtics fast break by stripping the ball to seal the game. One reason that play stands out is because Felton rarely missed with the game on the line — according to NBA.com, he shot 82.4 percent from the charity stripe in clutch situations this season.

In Game 2, his teammate Justin Anderson would reject Kevin Durant at the rim. Then Russell Westbrook would miss, and Steven Adams’ put-back attempt was a hair too late. Fortunately for Felton, this game will be defined by the plays he did make, not by the plays he didn’t. He scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds — just the second playoff double-double of his career — to lead the team in both categories as the Mavericks stunned the Thunder. The series is notched at 1-1 heading back home to Dallas for Thursday’s Game 3.

“I’m still sick, even though we got the win. I’m still sick,” Felton said after the game. “I don’t miss free throws like that when it comes down to the clutch. I’ll get in the gym and take 500 free throws if I need to before the next game. But it’s something that happens. I’m human. I’m not making no excuses. I shouldn’t miss the free throws, but hey, the Basketball Gods were on my side. We still got the win.”

Felton played 42 minutes in Game 2, the most he’s played in any game since Feb. 21, 2014, according to Basketball-Reference. Rick Carlisle was forced to squeeze every drop of floor time out of his 31-year-old guard due to the circumstances; J.J. Barea missed the game with a strained groin while Deron Williams played just 26 minutes as he battled through an abdominal strain. That meant essentially 42 minutes of dealing with Russell Westbrook, one of the game’s premier point guards. But Felton matched him tit for tat, outscoring him 21-19 while OKC’s All-Star narrowly outrebounded him 13-11. That’s yeoman’s work for a guy playing out of position on the game’s biggest stage.

“I’ve had many battles with Russell throughout the years. You just gotta be aggressive with him, stay up into his body, and just hope that he’s having an off night,” Felton said. “Those guys have the green light to shoot the ball. He’s a freak of nature, he’s extremely athletic for a point guard. He does a lot of good things. He’s a great player and he’s one of the best in the league.”

If anything, the grit Felton showed on both ends of the floor pretty well represents the way the Mavericks chose to respond after a colossally disappointing Game 1, which went to the Thunder, 108-70. Dallas responded with one of the more surprising bounce-back wins in playoff history, becoming just the fourth team ever to win a Game 2 after losing Game 1 by 35 or more, according to Basketball-Reference.

That sickness he was feeling after he missed that second free throw? It was nothing compared to how collectively ill the team felt after Saturday night’s contest.

“There was really nothing to say,” Felton said. “We all knew that that wasn’t acceptable. That’s not Dallas Mavericks basketball. That was just a disgrace to the city of Dallas, to the fans of Dallas, and to ourselves and our families. It was just an embarrassment on national television to get beat like that. We were coming in for a dog fight no matter what. Even if we didn’t come out with the win, we were gonna come out and give them a fight.”

If this is how he responds after a mistake or a poor showing, suffice it to say that no Mavericks fan will mind if he bottles that up and drinks it like water before tipoff. Depending on the extent of Barea’s injury, and factoring in Williams’ condition ahead of Thursday’s Game 3, Felton could see even more time at the 1-spot, which means more time on Westbrook and more time at the helm of the Mavs’ offense.

Should he find a way to maintain this level once again or even come anywhere close, he and his teammates might not have much to feel sick about.

Lineup change pays off in Mavs win at Charlotte

It was bound to happen eventually, and last night it did.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle changed up the starting lineup, replacing Zaza Pachulia with Raymond Felton. Dirk Nowitzki started at center with Chandler Parsons at power forward as the Mavs tested a small-ball group against the hottest team in the NBA. Before last night, the Hornets had won a league-high seven straight games, while the Mavs had lost a league-high five consecutive contests and had slid down to eighth place in the standings.

After Saturday’s loss to Indiana, Carlisle pledged to make changes if necessary to give his team the best chance to win. The early returns following that change have certainly been positive, as a first-half blitz saw the Mavs lead balloon to as much as 19 in an 11-point win. However, Charlotte plays a much smaller starting group than most other teams in the league, so there’s no guarantee the lineup change will carry over to future contests. Still, the Mavericks have been rolling out enough small-ball groups lately that this is now officially a trend, so it’s worth looking at what’s made those units so effective and how it can translate to success down the stretch as Dallas continues on in the crowded playoff race.

The smaller the lineup, the more the ball moves

When Dallas can spread the floor with three players who can attack off the dribble, defenses are forced to rotate to absolute perfection. But by moving Chandler Parsons to the power forward spot, the Mavericks can play four guys who can penetrate and, next to the best-shooting big man in NBA history, that creates a terrible dilemma for defenses. Five-out basketball causes all sorts of problems for opponents because from a defensive perspective it can turn each play into five individual games of 1-on-1. When teams run traditional halfcourt sets with two big men, a defense can survive if one guy makes a mistake or has a disadvantageous matchup. But in 5-out ball, the offense can exploit every single matchup, which means you’d better stick to your man and keep him out of the paint, because you’re not going to get much help if you’re beat. All of your teammates are defending guys 25 feet from the rim, so who would normally be the traditional help man could be as far as 30-40 feet away from you. Each individual defender is on an island.

Of course, the offense wants the defense to help in those situations because it creates open jumpers on the outside. Here’s the Mavs’ first offensive play in last night’s game. Notice how this is set up: There are five offensive players all between 20-25 feet from the rim as Raymond Felton plays one-on-one up top.

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Felton makes a quick crossover move on Kemba Walker and attacks the paint. Marvin Williams’ instincts take over, knowing that if he doesn’t slide down to help on the driving Felton, the Mavs guard will more than likely have a layup. But watch what happens when he helps.

2016-03-15 14_00_13-NBA.com_Stats - Dallas vs Charlotte - MONDAY, MARCH 14, 2016

Parsons is wide, wide open. It’s an easy three-pointer. Here’s the full play.

But driving the lane doesn’t always lead immediately to a shot, and that’s OK. The Mavs often attack and then pull the ball out and either reset the offense or swing to a player who becomes open as the defense falls off-balance. The Mavericks drove the lane 42 times in last night’s game, according to team analytics, and the club scored 50 points during possessions with a paint drive.

That high a volume of attacking creates an equally high volume of passing, and no team has done more of that since the All-Star break. In that time, the Mavericks lead the NBA with 352.9 passes per game, and in last night’s contest they made 366 passes. Seven players made at least 30 passes, an astonishing number. So not only is the team spreading the floor with quick guys, but they’re quick guys who can read the defense and make the right pass to lead to the most desirable shot. It’s a fun brand of basketball to play and watch, but it’s not fun at all to defend.

A quick note on the defense: Dallas switched on almost every screen last night, a luxury small-ball lineups tend to use religiously as it streamlines defensive coverage and mitigates any potential confusion in the pick-and-roll game. Also, Wesley Matthews was absolutely terrific against Kemba Walker in the fourth quarter, slowing the guard down after he went on a tear in the fourth quarter. Defense is part of the game, too, and the Mavs performed very well in that area last night.

Parsons and Dirk

Small-ball means Parsons plays the 4 and Dirk Nowitzki plays the 5. That’s a good thing for the Mavericks.

Since the All-Star break, Dallas has scored 1.411 points per possession in 77 minutes with that frontcourt duo in small-ball lineups, according to nbawowy.com. The Mavs have a 67.4 effective field goal percentage in those situations, an absurd rate. By comparison, the 59-win Warriors lead the NBA this season with a 56.2 eFG percentage.

On an individual level, Parsons has shined next to Dirk, with an 89.5 eFG, 88.6 true shooting percentage, and 68.4 field goal percentage in situations when he’s at the 4 and Dirk as at the 5.

Taking each player’s skill sets into consideration, though, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that they perform so well in those roles. Parsons has been playing more and more 4 lately, and it’s not crazy to think that, someday, he could make the transition to that position on a full-time basis. Meanwhile, Nowitzki has the same edge over centers today that he did against power forwards in the early-’00s in terms of quickness and exploiting opposing bigs’ discomfort defending on the outside. Centers naturally gravitate toward the rim so most aren’t going to think to stick tight to Nowitzki when he’s 25 feet from the basket, a mistake Nikola Jokic made last week that resulted in three Mavs points.

Parsons, meanwhile, has elevated his game to unprecedented heights in 2016. He’s averaging better than 20 points per game in the last two months and he’s rivaled by only Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard in terms of efficiency among high-usage players. He’s also climbed into the top-10 league-wide in points per possession among players with at least 750 possessions this season, according to Synergy Sports.

He ranks second in spot-up points per possession among players with at least 150 such possessions and he’s climbed up into the top 20 percent in PPP as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, in transition, and coming off cuts. His game is becoming more and more well-rounded as he’s even creating for himself at a high level this season, scoring 0.95 points per possession in isolation, ranking ahead of players like James Harden and DeMar DeRozan.

Power forward is arguably the most important position in the modern NBA, as your personnel at that spot will dictate the type of team you will be. If you have a stretch-4 shooter like Dirk, you can run a 4-out pick-and-roll and create driving and passing lanes for your point guard. However, if you have a dynamic scorer and facilitator like Parsons, who at 6-foot-10 (with a ratchet) can attack the paint, finish, pass, and shoot off both the catch and bounce, you can play 5-out and run your opponent ragged.

There aren’t many (or perhaps any) traditional power forwards in this league who can defend Parsons for 20-30 minutes a night, and there aren’t many centers who can do the same with Dirk. For the record, last night they combined for 47 points on 17-of-32 shooting and 20 rebounds. That combination is just lethal, and we’ve already seen the type of damage it can do, albeit on a fairly limited sample size compared to the Mavs’ rotation before the All-Star break.

The back end of the rotation

With Felton moving into the starting lineup, reserve minutes sprang open on the wing. Deron Williams battled foul trouble in the first half (before going supernova in the fourth quarter) which opened the door for rookie Justin Anderson to see some action. He scored only one point in eight minutes, but he made a play I can’t ever remember seeing before.

Charlotte’s Nic Batum drove the lane on a fast break and rose for the layup, but Anderson flew in literally out of nowhere and rejected the shot with his left (strong) hand, then grabbed the rebound with his off-hand in mid-air and launched a fast break the other way.

The Mavs have brought in plenty of super-athletic wings in the last decade-plus, from Gerald Green to Rodrigue Beaubois to Al-Farouq Aminu and more. But I’m not sure there are many people on the planet who can make the play Anderson made. Look at it this way: Not only did he block the layup, but he also got the rebound, preventing a Cody Zeller put-back dunk. Then, he made the outlet pass, ran the floor, collected a pass, drove the lane, and drew a foul going for a layup.

It was no secret coming out of the Combine that Anderson was one of, if not, the most athletic players in the NBA Draft. His combination of wingspan, verticality, and explosiveness gave him the physical makeup that every scout craves. As the season has worn on, he’s become more comfortable within the flow of the offense and playing defense at the professional level, adjustments which trouble pretty much every rookie. But no amount of coaching can teach a player to make the play Anderson did, which is what made him such a tantalizing prospect to begin with.

It’s unclear whether he’ll see more playing time as the race heats up and the season winds down, but that was a huge momentum play, and I’m sure it gave the rook a significant confidence boost. If nothing else, it’s a highlight play we’ll watch in awe for quite some time.

The move to small-ball was a resounding success last night, as it’s been for much of the season. And, looking at the schedule, the Mavs play their next five games against teams which don’t play traditional centers (Cleveland, then Golden State and Portland twice). This lineup could stick for a while, or perhaps it was a one-time thing to match up against a specific opponent in one specific contest. Either way, the Mavs have certainly found something with that philosophy, and their success in small-ball stretches could ultimately determine how far they go the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs.

Raymond Felton comes up huge in Mavs’ comeback win against Denver

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.

Mavs five-man unit is the best in the NBA

The best five-man, high-volume lineup in the NBA this season by volume hasn’t been the undefeated Golden State Warriors starting lineup. It hasn’t been a Spurs group, or any unit with Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, or James Harden.

Nope. Of the 26 lineups with at least 70 minutes played this season, the best five-man lineup in the NBA has been the Mavs’ group of Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Dirk Nowitzki, and Zaza Pachulia. In 71 minutes played, that group has a league-leading +31.5 net rating per 100 possessions, including a league-leading 131.5 offensive rating. That means that unit is scoring 131.5 points every 100 possessions, an absurd rate.

But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. That’s the lineup Dallas often finishes games with, and it’s the group that carries the team while Chandler Parsons still battles through a minutes restriction. That unit turned what appeared to be a road loss in Boston into a thrilling road win. Those five players closed out wins against the Pelicans and Lakers. Without that group, Dallas isn’t 8-4 and in third place in the West.

What’s most surprising about that group, though, is that essentially four of those players are new to the team. Nowitzki has been here for ages, of course, but Felton played just 281 minutes last season, his only other with the Mavericks. He and Nowitzki shared the floor for just 108 minutes during the 2014-15 regular season, according to NBA.com, so it’s not like they have a long history of working together. Williams, Matthews, and Pachulia, meanwhile, all joined the team this summer.

Players Team Net Rating
Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Dirk Nowitzki, Zaza Pachulia Mavericks 31.5
Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams Thunder 20.6
Jarrett Jack, Joe Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, Brook Lopez Nets 19.8
Kemba Walker, P.J. Hairston, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Al Jefferson Hornets 18.0
Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Tayshaun Prince, Kevin Garnett, Karl-Anthony Towns Timberwolves 17.7

The Dallas coaches and players have all praised the club’s high basketball IQ, and there’s perhaps no greater indicator of a smart team than seeing eye-popping stats like these: That group has a 2.47-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, ranking second-best among those 26 lineups, and its 67.6 true shooting percentage is miles ahead of the second-best Clippers’ starting lineup, sitting at 62.3 percent. One other notable element: It plays at a very slow pace relative to the rest of the groups on the list, which both reflects past success and bodes well for future success in crunch time, when the game usually slows down. In short, there’s nothing not to like about that group.

It’s no guarantee that those five will continue playing at this high a level for the rest of the season. But, again, this is a group of five players who have little to no history of playing together. Even Williams and Matthews shared the floor sparingly in their one-season partnership in Utah. As they continue to grow used to each other and learn everyone’s tendencies, odds are they can continue playing very well and potentially improve in other areas, particularly on defense.

“We’re still getting comfortable,” Williams told Mavs.com. “Still finding my way around out there. I think we all are still figuring out how to play with each other. Those things take time.

“Very rarely do you have a team in their first season (together) where they just kind of connect and click right from the start, but I feel confident in how we’ve started so far, and we’re gonna continue to get better.”