'MontaBall' Leads Mavs Over Pistons

For three-and-a-half quarters in Detroit on Saturday, Monta Ellis was scoreless from the field. Yet following Dallas' 113-102 win - its eighth in 10 outings -- coach Rick Carlisle said, 'He played a great, great game. Fantastic defense, great floor game, timely scoring. He was the key player.' Here's how that happened in this 'Be Ready' win:

It has become a game within a game when the Dallas Mavericks tip it off: Which opposing scorer, or customary non-scorer, is going to be transformed into a season-high-output weapon vs. Dallas?

This disturbing phenomenon has occurred in a full half of Dallas' last 24 games, and sometimes you know it's happening by intermission - like Saturday, when Josh Smith had 24 at the half ... Which isn't so outrageously shocking when you remember that Curry and Teletovic and DeRozan have also scored 24 in a half against Dallas this year.

But how about if a Mav counters the now-predictable opponent stat with un unpredictable stat of his own?

For this we go to Monta Ellis ... and what he'd done by halftime ... and what he did in the final eight minutes of the game.

Ellis had 11 assists by the half.

Ellis scored 10 points in the final half-quarter.

And in the end, MontaBall -- on the opening day of Dallas training camp a phrase coined by Ellis that was interpreted by some of us to be a hint at selfishness -- netted the Mavs a 12-point, 13-assist night.

"I thought Monta's floor game was phenomenal," said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored a team-high 24 points. "They trapped him off the screen-and-roll, and he found the open guy. And in the fourth quarter, they didn't trap him any more and that's when he got in the lane and basically took the game over for us."

Weirdly, in the two other Mavs games in which Monta's notched 11 assists, Dallas lost. But that's an aberration. Him contributing as a distributor on a night when he wasn't seemingly going to be a scorer - after three quarters he'd missed both of his two field-goal tries - creates some feel-good mojo regarding this team's BBIQ, unselfishness and unity.

"They've been inspired, and it's not by me," Carlisle said. "They've taken the challenge and we've just got to continue to do it."

After three quarters, Dallas had five guys in double-figures, was shooting 50 percent and had totaled 88 points ... in part because of Ellis' unselfishness. And with eight minutes left, Monta still had just those field-goal attempts -- fewest on the team.

And then, as Dirk said, he "basically took the game over for us."

For the seventh time this season Ellis scored at least 10 points in the fourth quarter of a game. And in Detroit, he scored all 10 of 'em in the final eight minutes.

Chip in three steals steals and a dive to the floor for a loose ball with 23 seconds left and you have your "key player.'' (Go ahead and vote for Monta, if you wish, for "The Dirkie'' here.)
Yet this was very much a "Be Ready'' game for everybody from Samuel Dalembert to Vince Carter to Wayne Ellington.

Sam had more offensive rebounds than Detroit board monsters Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith combined and gave Dallas a 12/11 double-double. Behind him, Brandan Wright played important minutes in the post.

Vince Carter added 18 for Dallas but just as important, had five assists and six rebounds off the bench. Those assists were part of a 31-assist barrage, one might after notching a season-high 39 in a win at Philadelphia. And the rebounds? In the last 13 games, the Mavs, shockingly, lead the NBA in rebounding percentage after out-boarding Detroit 50-39 here.

Devin Harris was crucial as the backup point to Jose Calderon (11 points) with 19 minutes. Shawn Marion was one of six players in double figures and with 10 points and 11 rebounds had one of Dallas' three double-doubles - a statistical rarity, as our man Mark Followill points out it's a Mavs season first.

And Wayne Ellington -- so little-used around here that he was mentioned more by the media and fans in the last week due to trade-deadline time than he'd been mentioned the rest of the season combined -- played 16 minutes and had seven points on 2-of-3 shooting, two rebounds, two assists and a steal. (He did that in supplanting young iron man Jae Crowder in the rotation; for the first time all year, Crowder got a DNP.)
In moving to 2-0 on this road trip, 4-0 on the second night of road back-to-backs and 31-24 overall, the Mavs cling to the bottom rung of the West playoff race, still hoping to climb.

There are still the issues with individual offensive scorers and there is still the fact that eighth place doesn't even win you the bronze. But this week (even including the home loss to Miami) has just maybe seen some of what Carlisle so often preaches -- unselfishness, unity, preparedness -- taking hold.

"We knew what we were getting into, and we were ready for the fight," said Dalembert, and if "Somnambulant Sam'' is throwing the word "fight'' into his postgame comments, yes.

Maybe we're in for an inspired Mavs stretch run.

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