All-Access Pass: Mavs 123, Rockets 120
Mavs 123, Rockets 120 ...
If you are a Dallas Mavericks fan who didn't get to see Wednesday night's immensely entertaining matchup with the Houston Rockets … well, you have our sympathies. This was what you watch the regular season for. There were stars shining bright: Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis setting season highs in scoring with 35 and 37 respectively, countered by a season-high 33 points, along with 11 rebounds, for Dwight Howard.
There were incredible displays of offense, including 13 straight made field goals by the Mavs beginning with a Dirk jumper to pull the Mavs within 10 with 9:36 to play in the fourth quarter … and the teams shooting a combined 56.8 percent from the field, the best in the league this season.
There were key defensive stops, popping up like small, perfectly placed islands in an otherwise desolate defensive landscape, as time wound down and nothing else would do, such as Dirk blocking Dwight under the rim with 1:24 to play.
And, with 47.9 seconds remaining, there was Ellis driving hard to the rim, leaping as the defense swallowed him whole, wrapping a pass around to the corner for an open 3-pointer for … Shawn Marion.
For the first time since being up 4-2 just 54 seconds into the game, Dallas reclaimed the lead and would hold on for those final 47.9 seconds to claim the 123-120 victory.
A Little Bit of History …
Dirk entered the game needing 17 points to surpass Reggie Miller as the 15th most prolific scorer in NBA history. In the second quarter, Dirk would take that next step up the ladder of NBA immortality.
Perhaps fitting, given that James Harden was sharing the court, Dirk would first tie Miller with 25,279 career points at the free-throw line with 8:54 on the clock … with 2:11 to play in the second quarter, Nowitkzi would head back to the line for a technical free throw and claim sole possession of the 15th spot on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
"Yeah, that's not bad,'' Nowitzki said. "Obviously I didn't think when I got here that 15 or 16 years later that I would be the top 15 scorer of all time. ... So it's great ... But I'm really more happy about the win to be honest. It means more to me than any other records.''
Next up is a moving target: Kevin Garnett.
After Wednesday night's games, Dirk is 42 points behind Garnett … and closing fast. Here's Dirk on all that and more:
Batman and Batman, no "consolation prizes" …
Wednesday night, it wouldn't be fair to label either of the Mavs leading duo as "Robin." Houston could handle neither all night … especially in the fourth quarter.
We'll begin with the game as a whole.
Dirk Nowitzki: 35 points, 13-of-20 field goals, 2-of-5 3-pointers, seven rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block and only one turnover.
Monta Ellis: 37 points, 13-of-18 field goals, 2-of-4 3-pointers, eight assists, two steals and three turnovers.
Let's see, 72 points on 68.4-percent shooting … yeah, that's pretty good.
In the fourth, they only got better, missing a total of two shots between them: Dirk had 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 1-of-2 3-pointers. Monta added 8 points, hitting 3-of-4 shots and adding three assists.
To put it another way: in the final period, Dirk and Monta combined to convert 81.8 percent of their shots for 21 points. The entire Rockets team scored 19, hitting 5-of-19 (26.3 percent) from the floor … after hitting 64.9 percent over the first three quarters.
This was the Mavs two best players casting a glimpse of what could be between them against a team most consider to be one of the best the West has to offer entering the night on a three-game winning streak. This was the kind of night that breeds optimism, that feeds wild hopes for what the ceiling could be.
"When me and Dirk get going like that,'' Monta said, "the other team's got a problem.''
It may be nothing more than a single win, but it was one that may have opened the eyes of many fans to push back from their doubt for a moment to wonder, "what if"?
We'll see what comes next, but for one night … this was … fun.
One Rookie Supplants Another …
In only his second game returned from the broken ankle that caused him to miss summer league, training camp, preseason and the first ten games of the season, Shane Larkin played just under 17 minutes, all of them meaningful in a big game.
Gal Mekel did not play.
Given that we know Carlisle was instrumental in making the Larkin draft selection, perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise. Mekel has shown strides and promise in his time, and perhaps this was only a matchup-based blip on the minute carousel for the rookies, but Larkin seems to have stepped in front of Mekel in the rotational hierarchy with impressive quickness.
Larkin reminded us that he is a rookie, playing out of control, or too fast, at times, and seemed too casual with simple passes … but he was also making a lot of good things happen.
His quickness, and endless movement, was disruptive at both ends of the court and he showed us the one area he is instantly much more of a threat than Mekel: perimeter shooting.
Larkin finished with eight points, 3-of-5 field goals, including 2-of-3 behind the arc, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and four turnovers.
Worth noting, when Larkin had a brief spurt of turnovers in a small amount of time, Carlisle left him in the game. He didn't bind Shane to the bench, didn't instantly sub him out. He let him make mistakes … then move on.
How long the rope is, or how long this brand of leniency lasts is not yet clear, but the fact that it exists at all is perhaps noteworthy.
*Houston hit 75 percent of their shots in the first quarter, then 61.1 and 57.9 in the second and third respectively … in the fourth that dropped all the way to 26.3 percent.
Carlisle was asked if there was anything different to the team's defensive approach in the final period.
"We played zone a lot because we couldn't guard them," Carlisle deadpanned.
There was more from Carlisle in terms of serious analysis ...
And there was more deadpanning from Carlisle ...
The roster is still learning to play off of each other, but to see them be able to employ the zone with success this early in the season, even if only in quick bursts, is promising.
*By contrast, the Mavs shot 57.1, 62.5, and 37.5 percent in the first three quarters. In the fourth, they kicked that up to 73.7.
Through three quarters, the Rockets were outshooting the Mavs 64.9 to 52.8 percent and leading 101-87.
By the end of the game, the Mavs had the better shooting percentage and more points.
"I feel like they could have subbed in their assistant trainer and he would have made a three,'' Nowitzki said. "They were amazingly hot.''
And suddenly ... the Mavs assistant trainer could've seemingly done the same.
*Since the 1985-86 season, Ellis becomes the 10th Mavs player totaled at least 37 points and 8 assists.
The last time it happened: Feb. 13, 2007 by some guy named Dirk Nowitzki (38 points, 8 assists, 11 rebounds)
*In the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons no Mavs player had at least 32 points and 8 assists. Monta Ellis has now done this twice in 12 games.
*Since the 2009-10 season, the Mavs had been 2-14 in games they allowed opponents to hit 55.3 percent or more of their shots … add one win to that after Wednesday.
This was the first time this season a Dallas opponent hit at least 55 percent of their field goals.
*Shawn Marion is hitting 47.8 percent of his 3-pointers this season … including 7-of-12 from the corners (58.3 percent), where he hit the game winner against the Rockets. Perhaps it's a mirage, surely these conversion rates are destined to regress, but you think Marion isn't happy to have a teammate truly capable of the drive and kick?
"If I get some open looks, I'm going to knock it down," Marion said. "There was a point in my career where I stopped shooting them. When I came here, I didn't really have to do that. But it never went away. The only way you can make them is to shoot them."
*Isn't it nice to have another player as gifted at the free-throw line as Dirk, a player capable of catching the ball and safely attempting to dribble? It's such a simple, almost miniscule fact to note … but having Jose Calderon to catch the throw in when Houston was set to intentionally foul with 8.4 seconds to play in a 1-point game was a pleasant relief.
Calderon, one of the best free-throw shooters in NBA history, calmly drained both, pushing the lead back to three.
Such a small thing … one of those thinnest of rails that the outcome of a game can rest upon … and something the Mavs now have.
*The last time the Mavs had two players score at least 35 points: April 11, 1995 when Jason Kidd (38) and Jamal Mashburn (42) did it.
*Dallas is now 6-0, tied for a franchise best since the 2007-08 season.
Best home starts in franchise history:
12-0 in 2002-03
10-0 in 2003-04
6-0 in 2007-08
6-0 in 2013-14
Monta? Or Dirk? Or another Mav? Who Deserves "The Dirkie''? Vote here!
The Final Word …
By the end of this game, the pressed outline of butts had faded from couch cushions across the Metroplex, their owners standing, ranting, yelling and ultimately cheering the supremely entertaining game unfolding on the television before them.
But, this was also more than just a game defined by its fun factor. This was the discarding of the sicknesses of last year's roster, one more step towards disposing of the late-game struggles that plagued the Mavs a season ago. This was a chance to shove away a team that is gone, to let us all know that this group won't be defined by memories of a roster that's largely moved on.
This is still Dirk's team, but it's Dirk's team with Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon, not OJ Mayo and Darren Collison. Whatever grudges last year have left us with, this roster won't be bound to them.
The Dallas Mavericks remain a work in progress, but they are coming into their own. Whatever they become, this is a new team … their team.
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