DALLAS -- This game was all about the Mavericks’ pride, not their puny playoff chances.
A box score from Sunday’s blowout loss in Houston was printed out and taped on the whiteboard in the front of the home locker room at the American Airlines Center. The Western Conference standings weren’t in sight.
Several eye-popping numbers were circled in red ink, including the Rockets’ shooting percentages and the point totals of James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons. “NOT TONIGHT,” someone scribbled in inch-high letters.
Shawn Marion, a proud member of the endangered species known as the 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, played a major role in making sure those words came true, scoring 22 points and answering the challenge as a crunch-time stopper in the Mavs’ 112-108 rebound win Wednesday night over the Rockets.
“They embarrassed us as a team,” Marion said. “That’s what it boils down to. You win and lose as a team, but you’ve got to have some kind of pride in you to go out and compete.
“Sometimes, you can go out there and some teams are just better than you; it is what it is. But that don’t mean you can’t go out there and compete. But when you can go down the whole line and you can just tell everybody was a half-step slow, it’s a different story.”
The Mavs had three days to think about their nightmare in Houston. They emerged as an obviously motivated team, with Marion setting the tone with 12 points in the first quarter and propelling the Mavs to a nine-point lead.
But it became a back-and-forth game that wouldn't be decided until the final minute.
With the Mavs protecting a two-point lead, everybody in the building knew that Harden was getting the rock. And it was just as predictable that Marion, the man who spearheaded Dallas’ defensive effort against Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James during the Mavs’ miracle title run, would be within breathing room of Harden’s famous beard.
Could Marion come up with a critical stop -- or two -- against the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer?
“Of the whole team, I’ll take Trix [Marion] on him, for sure,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “He did a great job on him tonight. We feel like he’s our best defender on the perimeter, period. He’s long, he’s still got quickness, he’s smart, he’s got good hands. If we take anybody, we’ll take Trix on him, and I thought he did a great job.”
Marion did well enough to win. He harassed Harden into a tightly contested stepback 3 that barely grazed the bottom of the rim with 29.9 seconds remaining.
Harden got one more shot when it was ruled Rockets ball after it bounced out of bounds. Marion got caught up on a pick, but he fought through it and got some help by high-rising big man Brandan Wright, whose challenge at the rim caused Harden’s driving layup attempt to fall short.
Harden finished the game with 28 points, but he was just 5-of-17 from the floor. And he was 0-for-2 when it mattered most and Marion was on him.
“I’m going to be in his face,” Marion said. “He’s going to have to hit a hell of a shot on me. That’s it.”
That’s the way a competitor who prides himself on defense rolls. Especially when he was embarrassed just a few days earlier.