All-Access: Mavs 1 Win Away From Clinch
FOREWARD: This season, when the Mavs have trailed after three quarters of basketball things haven't generally gone so well. Considering the fact that they were 3-24 in those games, perhaps that's a bit of an understatement. Against the Houston Rockets, in what amounts to the biggest game of the season to this point (and really, that's the case with every game until something is clinched - which can come as soon as Friday), the Dallas Mavericks set aside that trend and pulled away from the Rockets behind the brilliance of Dirk Nowitzki, with a little help from his friends, for a 117-110 victory.
DIRK BEING DIRK: Can you smell the playoffs in the air? That time when the truly elite find and feed upon a unique nutrient in in the air the rest can't find, pulling a boost from nothing and rising above the mere humans surrounding them on the court.
It felt like a quiet night for Dirk while he scored four points on 2-of-7 shooting and no rebounds in the first half, appearing ready and willing to defer to anyone willing to step up. With the game tied at halftime, he fiddled with the clutch for a moment and you could see the gears begin to click into place. For the third quarter he totaled 10 points on 4-of-5 field goals ... a modest appetizer.
In the postgame, Dirk said something about "getting a bounce'' on one of his shots. This one:
And it was on.
Dallas trailed by six as the fourth quarter opened. We mentioned the fate the Mavs have succumbed to thus far this season under these circumstances (that 3-24 record, now 4-23), but must also note that Houston was 27-4 when carrying a lead into the final period. The table was set for disappointment ... only a different feast was yet to come.
Dirk burst into gear, the gas pedal thrust through the floor and the engine screamed to full life ... when the dust had settled, he'd poured in 21 of his 35 points in the final quarter, hit 4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 3-pointers, 11-of-11 free throws and perhaps destroyed any realistic hopes the Rockets had of making the postseason ... leaving carnage of an entire team's will in his wake.
Note the outside game complementing some clever pick-and-roll stuff ...
"Yeah, that was fun out there,'' Dirk said. "In the second half I got some good looks in transition and with the pick-and-roll I was able to get in the lane and we were spotting up our shooters and there was a lot of wide-open looks. If we get in the lane and move the ball and look for the open guy than I think that is a fun way to play."
With the playoffs at the doorstep, that special scent in the air, we were delivered a reminder of the "fun'' stuff that makes Dirk who he is.
VINSANITY: When Vince Carter scored the final 10 Dallas points in the first quarter, personally ending on a 6-0 run that would tie the game after one, the final four points coming on classic Carter dunks, we caught a glimpse of what was to come.
There were some misses along the way, leaving him at 5-of-14 shots through three quarters, but he was there to carry the offense for stretches ... allowing Dirk to slide into rhythm and giving Carlisle cause to leave him on the floor to close the game.
"(Carter) just had a really strong disposition at both ends of the floor," Carlisle said. "He was attacking on offense. Defensively, he was putting his body on people and he was rebounding."
Carter would score 13 of his season-high 23 points in the second half, including seven on 3-of-4 shooting in the fourth period. He provided spacing, remaining a solid threat from the arc while also showing a more consistent desire to attack the rim ... evidenced by the fact that he earned the right to six free-throw attempts, making all of them.
These six free throws are the second most he's attempted in a game this season, and the first time he's had at least six (that didn't require three overtimes collect) since Jan. 2nd.
FALLEN JET: Jason Terry scored six of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, a period that also saw him hand out all three of his assists without a turnover. The final frame also left us with a moment that stands as the epitome of Jet.
With 6:22 to play, Patrick Patterson met Terry in the air as he attempted an exclamation-point dunk, knocking the ball way and Terry hard to the floor. The crowd sucked in, fearing the worst as Terry lay writhing on the court. A moment later, Brandan Wright waved his arm beckoning the trainer and hearts dropped.
Then, before the trainers could take more than a step, Terry popped to his feet, jogged to center court and threw his arms into the air in a series of rising "V's" ... calling for the crowd's love and receiving it in a cascading eruption of cheers.
Forever the entertainer, forever the fighter, Terry drew everything out of the moment, giving it more weight, more significance and went on to help usher the win home.
DELONTE IN THE NEWS: The $25,000 West Willy fine. The passing of his grandmother. The evaluation of the game. Delonte holds court ...
CLOSING MARION-LESS: For the second consecutive game Rick Carlisle decided to go with the floor-spacing offense of Vince Carter to close the game rather than the suffocating defense of Shawn Marion.
On some nights, particularly when Carter has it going the way he did early in the fourth, it's hard to deny the merits of leaving Marion on the bench ... especially against a team that wasn't doing most of its damage from the wing (Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic were inflicting most of the harm). It can work and can be a viable alternative, as this game proved.
However, this does not erase the impact Marion has had this season, and the significant role his defense can play on the biggest defensive possessions of a game. When something is working in the immediacy of a single game, there isn't reason to turn away from it.
At some point soon, Dallas will need what Marion can provide, and will need it in the game's biggest moments.
"Carter played his most important game of the season for us," Carlisle said, "real aggressive, good things at both ends."
Next game, it may be Marion that comment is directed at.
Actually, though, it was DallasBasketball.com that directed comments at Marion regarding his recently reduced role as a finisher. As you'll see, our man 'Trix didn't much like our questions:
Respectfully, Shawn ... we're right. You're wrong. This doesn't have to qualify as a controversy. But it damn sure is a story.
RICK ON TALENT: "We're seeing some really special players here,'' said Carlisle, and you know, that's worth a reminder. "There's never going to be another Jason Kidd. ... It's special. Dirk and Jet are the same kind of guys, and I put Marion in that category, too.
A worthy reminder.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: As of this writing (prior to the Phoenix or Utah games going final), Dallas is two better in the loss column than the Rockets and Jazz with only three games to play. Should Dallas take care of Golden State on Friday they would clinch a playoff berth ... making the final two games of the season important for seeding purposes only.
Dallas also reclaimed the sixth seed with the win, holding the tiebreaker with Denver. The Mavs can no longer move up to the fifth seed, due to Memphis holding that tiebreaker.
In essence, a win against Golden State Friday could allow the Mavs a choice in how to approach the final two games: seek the wins, build momentum and stake claim to the sixth seed. Or, claim the precious rest and let the chips fall as they may.
Should the Mavs manage to go winless over the final three games, Utah and Phoenix could only surpass them in the standing by winning all of their remaining games (including Utah's Wednesday night game).
MAVSELLANEOUS: Dirk scored 31 of his 35 points in the second half, falling three short of his own franchise record 34 for a half, set back in 2009 against the Utah Jazz ... Dirk's 11 fourth-quarter free throws is more attempts than he's taken in 10 of the last 11 complete games. The one game he totaled more than that 11: 12 in the triple-overtime contest ... Only five Mavs played in the fourth quarter. Carlisle made no substitutions as Kidd, Terry, Carter, Dirk and Wright each played all 12 minutes ... As we mentioned, Dallas is now 4-23 in games they trail after three quarters. They are 3-5 in the last eight instances. So, there is some improvement ...
CENTERS OF ATTENTION: Haywood started. Ian was the first center off the bench. But Brandan Wright played the most minutes, 20:46, after playing a combined 14:43 in the last two games combined. We'll continue to contend that Wright (five rebounds and four points) can be a difference maker for this team and needs to find minutes somewhere, regardless of the matchups.
BWright himself seems to like the way we think.
QUICK NOTES ON KIDD: Jason Kidd continued his hot shooting, hitting 4-of-7 behind the arc to finish with 12 points and 8 assists.
"(Kidd) wasn't going to let me take him out of the game in the fourth quarter," Carlisle said. "That's where that was at, and I didn't try."
Carlisle would also send other praise in Kidd's direction:
"Just how he affects winning in so many ways; giving guys confidence, the uncanny ability to make the key play - taking the charge was the biggest play of the game."
J-Kidd did the Daddy thing while meeting the media:
THE FINAL WORD: With direct playoff implications on the line, Dallas scored the most points for a second half this season (62) and rode the dominance of their best player to close out a game strong. The finish may not fall within the five-points definition of "close," but this does not change the fact that it was close.
The Mavs also erased a deficit they entered the fourth quarter with to earn a win for only the fourth time this season. They committed only one fourth-period turnover and showed a level of assertion and execution that has often been missing.
Last year, Dallas used the final game of the season to pummel the playoff-bound New Orleans Hornets. We can hope that they can use this win, this overcoming of a year's worth of late-game trends, to form the foundation of a dangerous confidence, of a new momentum.
The stated goal to open the season was to simply make the playoffs healthy ... Dallas is now one win from doing just that.
"If we win Friday, we're in,'' Rick said. "We understand things and we talked about it this morning. This game was really pivotal in so many ways because it's a 'double-count' game on the whole magic number thing, and it effectively takes one team out of it, which is big. We've got three more important games to go and they're all meaningful."
Well, one game is meaningful. We'll cross the significance of the final two if and when we get there.
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