Yes, the same Samuel Dalembert who bounced to five teams over the last five seasons and was picked up off the scrap heap by the Dallas Mavericks well after the free agency frenzy last summer.
Yes, the same Samuel Dalembert who played a grand total of nine playoff minutes for the Milwaukee Bucks as they were swept in the first round last season.
The “Haitian Sensation,” whose 13 points and 10 rebounds marked his first playoff double-double since 2008, just looks like a different dude. That’s been true for the most part since the All-Star break, but Dalembert really took his game to a different level during Saturday’s thrilling 109-108 win that gave the Mavs a 2-1 series lead over the San Antonio Spurs.
“Tell you what, Sammy had a different motor tonight,” buzzer-beating hero Vince Carter said. “For whatever reason, he was attacking, rebounding, defending, just doing it all. We need his presence. I think he understands how important he is to this team and he’s taking the challenge.”
In this series, that challenge starts with defending Duncan, the future Hall of Famer whose game will be textbook material for post players for generations to come. Dalembert certainly didn’t shut down Duncan, who led the Spurs with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, but he kept him off the glass (five rebounds) and made him work hard for his touches.
For all those points, the Spurs were outscored by 16 points in Duncan’s 36 minutes on the floor.
Meanwhile, Dalembert was a monster as a rim-protector (four blocks) and a beast on the offensive glass (six offensive rebounds).
The biggest knock on Dalembert, other than his punctuality problems that popped up a couple of times early this season, has been that he often lacks energy. Nothing could have been further from the truth in Game 3, when he played like his pants were on fire, to borrow a Rick Carlisle phrase, and fired up the crowd with his emotional gestures a few times.
“Sam was real active and he’s just has got to keep doing what he is doing,” Carlisle said. “When his activity is like this, he’s rebounding it and he’s got a presence at the rim it makes such a big difference for us. We need him to do that.”
Dalembert, a big man who fell out of Milwaukee’s rotation last season for heaven’s sake, was so good in his 25 minutes that he felt comfortable somewhat subtly lobbying for more playing time via the media.
“I’ve been trying since the playoffs started to be active and be all over the place, grabbing rebounds and getting possession,” Dalembert said. “Unfortunately, my time is limited. When I do get the time to do my job and protect the basket, I respond.”
If Dalembert keeps playing like that, he’ll get plenty of minutes, quite possibly in another series.