Alexis Ajinca came to the Dallas Mavericks as a spare part in the deal that landed starting center Tyson Chandler. From the moment he arrived, Ajinca, a 7-foot, 220-pound Frenchman, the fourth center on the roster, has been on the trading block.
Yet, after a recent home game, team president Donnie Nelson intimated that the lanky big man might be sticking around, suggesting that Dallas wants to hold on to young, developing talent. And after his fruitful 19 total minutes in three games, including a momentous -- even momentum-changing -- seven minutes of emergency duty at Oklahoma City Monday, his first action since Dec. 7, heck, maybe Ajinca will remain a part of the Mavs' three-man French Foreign Legion.
With Dirk Nowitzki out with a sore knee, and Chandler having picked up his third and fourth fouls within 33 seconds midway through the third quarter, acting head coach Dwane Casey turned to Ajinca to play power forward with 1:58 left in the third quarter.
It was a critical juncture. The Thunder had finally built up some momentum. Serge Ibaka's slam with 1:36 to go in the quarter put Oklahoma City up 78-76 and then a Jason Terry turnover led to a Kevin Durant floater that had the Thunder on a 7-0 run while tying their largest lead of the quarter, 80-76, with 1:06 to go.
And then here comes the Mavs back on offense with a lineup of J.J. Barea, Terry, DeShawn Stevenson, Ajinca and Brendan Haywood. Where would the Mavs go for a good look? Ajinca in the corner for a 3-pointer?
Ajinca handled the pass from Terry and in one motion launched only the third 3-point attempt of his three-year career and the first in two years.
With flawless rotation, it hit nothing but net. The raucous sellout crowded moaned. The Mavs' bench exploded. The Thunder's run had been halted and the Mavs wound up going into the fourth quarter with the momentum, trailing by a bucket, 81-79.
As for Ajinca, he had earned himself five good minutes to start the fourth quarter.