The Dallas Mavericks headed to snowy Minnesota in search of their third consecutive win on the road. Beyond the chase for the team's longest road winning streak this season, this game held further significance for the teams that entered ranked eighth and ninth in the West:
Playoff seeding tiebreakers.
The Timberwolves took the first two meetings, so Dallas could not surrender another if they hoped for a chance to tie the season series.
With Dirk Nowitzki (7-of-17 for 16 points) and Monta Ellis (3-of-14 for nine points) struggling from the floor, including Ellis going scoreless in the second half, missing all eight of his attempts, it was Shawn Marion who carried the offense before sealing the deal at the other end of the court on the game's controversial final play.
Marion set a new high as a member of the Mavericks with 32 points, hitting an impressive 14-of-19 field goals, including 4-of-6 behind the arc, before finding himself matched up with Kevin Love (36 points, 11 rebounds) in the left corner on the final play of the Mavs 100-98 victory.
The official video highlights:
That Final Play …
With 47.5 seconds to play in the fourth, Samuel Dalembert drained a pair of clutch free throws to put the Mavs up four.
With 7.9 seconds to play Dalembert grabbed a defensive rebound after a Nikola Pekovic miss and for the slightest of moments the tension fell away. It seemed like the threat, the letdown of a 21-point lead squandered, was averted.
Only, as Dalembert tried to make the smart play and hand the ball off to a superior free-throw shooter, Monta Ellis, he failed to set his feet and then made a small hop … with several Wolves players doing a synchronized "traveling" dance with their hands, the whistle sounded and the travel was called.
With 6.5 seconds remaining Minnesota inbounded the ball, and Jose Calderon martly used the Mavs foul to give, leaving 3.0 on the clock.
Ricky Rubio threw the ball in to Love, who took one dribble deeper into the left corner and rose for what initially appeared to be a chance at the win (though replay showed what appeared to be Love's foot on the line) … and, with a quick dig down on the rising ball (and maybe some of Love's arm), Marion tipped the ball away.
The Minnesota announcers you get to hear here term the non-call "criminal.'' So why doesn't Love go nuts in protest? Maybe he is aware of the possibility that Marion slapped the offensive player's hand while it was on the ball, a legal play.
Later, Love said: "I'm the type of person that if you see a foul, an obvious foul, you call it. I thought that was pretty, pretty obvious. ... Without saying too much, you look at the replay, and it was obvious he got arm."
"It was not a foul,'' Marion insisted. "It was not a foul.''
‘Trix still with a few tricks …
Two games ago, after hitting 1-of-9 shots, Marion personally took much of the blame for the loss against the San Antonio Spurs … like a good leader, he's worn that accountability like a badge of responsibility to erase the debt he felt he'd created, showing exactly how to respond to what he viewed as a personal failure to his team.
In the two games since, Marion's averaged: 23 points, 70.0 and 66.7 field-goal and 3-point percentages, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, one steal, 0.5 blocks and zero turnovers.
His 32 points against the Wolves was the most he's scored since April 15, 2009, when he wore a Raptors uniform.
"He was the key of the game," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Shawn was the key of the game, no question about it. I mean, if we're giving out game balls, that would be two gameballs in a row for him. Activity was great, played both ends of the floor, didn't run one play for him and he just produced. We need him to keep doing what he's doing."
Simply put, Dallas isn't supposed to win a game in which Dirk and Ellis combine for 24 points on 10-of-31 field goals (32.3 percent), especially as Kevin Love goes off for 36 and 11.
Marion made sure this 21-lead didn't go down the road 17-, 18-, and 19-point leads have already traveled this season … he made sure it held.
"I'm more about winning games, whatever it boils down to,'' Trix said.
Building the lead …
It's becoming all-too-familiar with this team: build a big lead then quickly surrender that lead in spectacular fashion.
First came the lead.
With eight minutes to play in the second quarter, the Mavs were up three. By the half, they were up 19.
The raw numbers of their impressive eight-minute stretch:
During this stretch, and the majority of the first half, the Mavs were a blur of useful and efficient movement, led by Marion (5-of-5 for 11 points), Ellis (2-of-3 for 7 points) and Nowitzki (3-of-4 for 6 points).
In particular, the Mavs starting guards seemed in complete control of this game, orchestrating a symphonic offense that collected 21 assists on 27 first-half field goals made.
Calderon and Ellis reigned over the game, holding the reins to the offense on their way to a combined 17 points, 12 assists, four steals and only two turnovers.
The Unraveling …
A lot of things factored in to the disastrous third quarter, a quarter that matched the most perilous of the season for the Mavs as they were outscored by 19 (a single-quarter deficit matched only during the garbage time final period of a 15-point win over the Bucks Dec. 14th).
Where the offense was fluid and predicated on grace and cohesion in the first half, there was sloppiness, poor decision making and a fractured group that looked like it may already be planning it's New Year's Eve festivities.
In the third period, the Dallas starting guards, once in control of the game, had as many turnovers (3) as assists, points, rebounds, and field goals combined … though this collapse fell on just about everyone's shoulders.
Above we noted an eight-minute stretch of Mavs dominance. It was countered in the third by a 9:30 span of utter devastation.
The numbers for the final 9:30 of the third:
One of the things that jumps out from that horrid third-quarter stretch: the Mavs attempted eight 3-pointers in the first half. They would attempt six in that 9:30 stretch, making only one.
The entire disposition seemed to change from attack … to coast.
To put it another way: after holding the Wolves to 43 in the first half, the Mavs allowed 38 points in the third quarter.
Yet another way: Dallas allowed 38 points in the third … the same number they would score for the second half as a whole.
Hard to know …
Since the return of Brandan Wright, who once again shined offensively (scoring 14 points on 6-of-8 field goals in just under 18 minutes … but added only three rebounds, big as they were), Vince Carter has been much closer to the level of play that became the norm a season ago.
However, there have been a couple of clunkers in the mix, in Toronto (where his six turnovers were more than his points, rebounds and assists combined) and Monday night in Minnesota.
Carter finished with six points on 2-of-9 shooting, though he did add five rebounds, five assists, three steals, one block and only one turnover … yet his 1-of-5 and questionable shot selection was near the forefront of the 9:30 Wolves run in the third.
*Five times this season the Mavs have allowed their opponent to score at least 19 second-chance points. Two of those instances came against the Timberwolves, including a season-worst 26 in their first meeting.
Minnesota came into the game third in the league, averaging 16.3 second-chance points.
Monday night, Dallas did much better in this regard, holding the Wolves to 12.
*During the television broadcast (which featured some great work by Mark Followill, perfectly echoing the wild excitement of the game's close) Followill noted that the Minnesota starters, relative to their counterparts, posted the best scoring differential in the league, while their bench held the worst.
Monday night's contest will only support those numbers, in part because the Wolves leaned so heavily on their starters … for the sake of comparison, the Mavs minutes were split 162/78 between their starters and bench respectively (rounded off by eight seconds), the Wolves were at a 182/58 split.
Despite the added reliance, the numbers are still significant: Minnesota starters outscored the Mavs starters 93-74.
Of course, when JJ Barea (we all remember him) scores five and the rest of the bench adds a total of … 0 … you find the Mavs with a bench scoring advantage of 26-5.
*The Mavs had their second highest assists total of the season, with 33, topped only by their 34 in a win against the Lakers Nov. 5th.
When the team has 23 assists or more, Dallas is now 14-4.
*Monta Ellis had 10 assists for the fifth time this season. Dallas is now 9-2 when he as at least seven assists … with the two losses coming on back-to-back nights against Toronto and Phoenix Dec. 20th and 21st.
Last season, a Mavs player reached 10 assists four times total, three by Darren Collison and one by OJ Mayo.
*Shawn Marion had tied his season high of 21 points at halftime.
*Marion has scored 32-or-more points 22 times in his career … 20 of them with the Phoenix Suns.
*Who Deserves "The Dirkie'' seems like an easy, call, eh? Nevertheless, vote here!
The Final Word …
It's easy to let the frustration of watching another significant lead vanish in a blink, 21 points this go around, fester. It's easy to lament how quickly so much good can come unraveled. Yet, for all of that lingering anger, it's also hard not to point at the indicators that say this game should have been another win that slipped away, such as Dirk and Monta combining to go 4-of-19 in the second half, including zero points from Ellis.
Shawn Marion saved the Mavs Monday night. If the Spurs loss was on his back, so is this victory.
Where so much went wrong, the standing will reflect only a win. In a sense, there's a sense of both relief and almost joy in that. Perhaps it's not pure, not when the memory of all that went wrong is so fresh, yet it mingles among any frustration … and by the win/loss tallies, only one of those emotions will live on.
It wasn't pretty. It almost got away. But, it didn't.
Maybe that's enough … for now.