This was the kind of performance the Mavs waited patiently for from the veteran guard as he endured his long, frustrating recovery. If Harris can play like this on a consistent basis, his one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum will be a bargain.
Harris gave the Mavs a huge lift in his fifth game of the season, a 116-106 win Sunday night over the Detroit Pistons. The Mavs might not have snapped their two-game losing streak without the help of Harris, who scored 14 points and dished out seven assists in 24 minutes, starring during the 17-4 spurt that gave Dallas the lead for good.
The Mavs are confident this was a glimpse of the contributions they can count on from the 30-year-old combo guard, who brings athleticism, experience and versatility when he comes off the bench.
"He’s a game-changer for us on both ends of the floor," said Dirk Nowitzki, who led the Mavs with 28 points. "He’s one of our best perimeter defenders. He’s tough in there, he’s tough on the post, he takes charges for us. On offense, it’s just fun to see another guy with speed. He can get to the rim. He shot the ball well today. He makes good decisions with the ball.
"It’s great to have him back, that’s for sure."
Frankly, Harris is a little surprised to be playing this well this soon.
He admits that he didn’t want to have his expectations too high after a half-season layoff that was a few weeks longer than anticipated due to a December setback in his rehabilitation. He feels like he’s still in his training camp because he’s had such precious little practice time with his teammates, with Nowitzki the only holdover from Harris’ first stint in Dallas. And he’s still working to get back in game shape.
But Harris has had back-to-back 14-point performances, going 8-of-13 from the floor and recording 11 assists with only one turnover in those two games.
"I’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I’m just building on each game, trying to get better," Harris said. "I try not to have too high expectations, having that much time off. I know what I feel I can do. It’s what my body will allow me to do. The last two games have been good for me."
Harris' play during the most important stretch of Sunday's game wasn’t just good. It was spectacular.
Harris started a 17-4 run by knocking down a midrange jumper and transition pull-up 3-pointer on consecutive possessions. He posted up and dished to Vince Carter for an open 3-pointer, hit another 3 and threw an alley-oop to Brandan Wright during the spurt, which gave the Mavs the lead for good. Then, he racked up a couple more assists on the Mavs' next two possessions.
By the time Harris' six-minute stretch of dominance was over, the Mavs had turned a tie game into a 14-point lead.
"He’s been going better and better each game," coach Rick Carlisle said. "He’s obviously worked extremely hard, he’s getting more rhythm and more feel and shots are going in now. He just made plays.
"On a night when Monta [Ellis] just couldn’t get it going, it was a godsend to have a guy like Devin available."
Carlisle has the luxury of cutting Ellis' minutes if he's having an off night (11 points, eight turnovers) now that Harris is in the mix. Or Carlisle can play Harris more at point guard if Jose Calderon is overmatched defensively, although Harris said he's still working to regain confidence in his foot and get back to normal with his lateral movement.
"We knew he was going to be a big help for this team," said Calderon, who had 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. "He can do a lot of things for us. He can play D, he’s fast, he can shoot the ball and we can play with different rotations when he’s in the game. He’s been good so far, and he’s getting better every day."
This is the Harris the Mavs have been waiting for. This also leaves the Mavs wanting more, excited about how much their new weapon off the bench can help.