How it happened: This was a classic example of Dirk Nowitzki's clutch dominance, but his sidekick delivered at the buzzer.
Nowitzki gave the Mavs a chance to win the game after it seemed like the Trail Blazers, the team with the Western Conference’s best record, was on the verge of slamming the door shut.
The face of the Mavericks’ franchise simply took over the game after the Trail Blazers made a run to tie it up with 3:58 remaining. Nowitzki scored nine points over the next three-plus minutes, knocking down four of five shots from the floor.
The clutch scoring spree started with a beautifully designed play out of a timeout, when DeJuan Blair set a screen to free Nowitzki up for a midrange jumper near the top of the key. The Mavs ran the same play with the same results on the next possession.
Nowitzki, who scored 10 of his team-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, mixed in an and-1 jumper over Lillard and one of his patented one-legged fadeaways over Nicolas Batum. The fadeaway seemed to be a dagger, giving the Mavs a six-point lead with 45.9 seconds remaining.
But the Blazers rallied in the final minute, getting 3s from Batum (22 points) and Lillard (32 points) to tie it up.
That set up the first game winner of Ellis’ tenure with the Mavs.
What it means: Beating the 17-4 Trail Blazers, who sit atop the Western Conference standings, is by far the most impressive win of the Mavs’ season. The Mavs accomplished something that the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t able to do this week by winning in Portland. This marks the third consecutive win for the Mavs, who improved to 13-8.
Play of the game: For all of the pretty shots knocked down by Nowitzki, it’s impossible to go with anything other than Ellis’ game winner. He started off in the corner, came off staggered screens by Nowitzki and Blair, caught Jose Calderon’s inbounds pass near the top of the arc, took one dribble and drilled the long 2-pointer. That gave Ellis 22 points and set off a wild celebration by the Mavs.
Stat of the night: Calderon made five layups against the Trail Blazers. According to NBA.com’s data, Calderon had five buckets within 8 feet of the basket all season entering Saturday night.