Consider the 108-106 win Saturday night at Portland’s Moda Center -- a place where a pair of powerhouses, the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder, lost this week -- as proof that the Dallas Mavericks have a potent one-two crunch-time punch again.
There was recent reason to wonder when the Mavs’ dynamic scoring duo would start clicking in the clutch. After all, Dallas’ crunch-time numbers for the season were dismal after last week’s meltdown in Atlanta, but that seems like such a distant memory after the Mavs reeled off three wins in a row.
Nowitzki and Ellis combined to score the Mavs’ final 19 points against the Charlotte Bobcats in the first win of that streak. They scored the Mavs’ final 14 in the heart-pounding victory in Portland, capped by the franchise’s first buzzer-beating game winner in more than four years.
“We shouldn’t have been in that situation, but when you get in that situation, you’ve got to get the ball to one of those two guys,” coach Rick Carlisle told reporters.
It’s nice to have a couple of options who are averaging more than 20 points per game. That’s a luxury only a handful of teams have: Dallas (Ellis and Nowitzki), Oklahoma City (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook), Minnesota (Kevin Love and Kevin Martin), Golden State (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) and Portland (LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard).
Lillard made the Mavs sweat until the final buzzer by drilling a double-pump 3-pointer to tie the game with 1.9 seconds remaining. At that point, Carislle opted to go to Ellis on a play the Mavs put in at the morning shootaround.
The play was perfectly executed, with Ellis coming off staggered screens by Nowitzki and DeJuan Blair, catching the inbounds pass from Jose Calderon, taking one dribble and going up for a 20-footer that hit nothing but net. That’s exactly what Ellis recalled telling Vince Carter and Calderon would happen on their way onto the floor after the timeout.
“Man, I was born for it,” said Ellis, who scored 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting, although he was credited with a Nowitzki bucket with 45.9 seconds remaining. “I’ve been taking that shot all my life. I love that time of the game.”
Nowitzki has had a co-star with that kind of crunch-time cockiness before in Jason Terry. However, with all due respect to a man whose No. 31 should hang from the American Airlines Center rafters one day, Nowitzki has never had a sidekick as explosive as Ellis.
By all appearances, Nowitzki is back to being pretty much the same ol’ Dirk after a couple of down years by his standards. He’s feeling better physically than he has since the Mavs’ 2011 title run and has proven that he can still be unstoppable for stretches.
Take, for example, the moment when the Mavs needed to halt the Blazers’ momentum. Portland had erased a nine-point deficit when a Lillard 3 tied the score with 3:58 remaining. After a timeout, Nowitzki answered with midrange jumpers the next two possessions and soon followed with an and-1 jumper and one of his pretty, patented one-legged fadeaways. That one-legger gave Nowitzki 30 points, although he officially was credited with 28, pending a change after review.
“We were throwing it to him every time,” Carlisle said. “He’s going to cause something to happen, something good. He’s going to make it tough on them, so we’ve got to get the ball in his hands.”
The final shot of Nowitzki’s clutch scoring flurry gave the Mavs a six-point lead in the final minute, which is why Carlisle said they shouldn’t have been in the situation of needing a buzzer-beater to beat the Blazers in regulation.
It ended up just giving Ellis a chance to prove he could rise to the occasion.
The Mavs have long known that Nowitzki is capable of clutch dominance. Now that he’s got a legitimate co-star next to him, the Mavs might have a fighting chance to make some noise, even against the West's big boys.