CHICAGO -- Rodrigue Beaubois squirmed on the United Center floor, grasped his left hand with the crooked ring finger and wailed. Thoughts raced that the third-year guard's luck had once again run out on the cusp of the postseason.
"Oh man, he was yelling," Dirk Nowitzki said, barely cracking a smile. "I thought we were going to have to put him down, he was yelling so loud. But he was all right. I looked over and his finger was just a little sidewise."
The initial sight of his unnaturally bent finger unnerved Beaubois. Could it be as bad as the right ring finger that Delonte West dislocated and broke in mid-February that made him miss the next 21 games?
"That's why I was kind of scared when I saw that," said Beaubois, a victim of his first dislocated finger. "Finally, it wasn't that bad. At first I didn't know."
In a span of four minutes of the second quarter, Beaubois went from snapping his finger in the jersey of Chicago Bulls guard Ronnie Brewer to writhing in pain, a second empty postseason flashing before his eyes. He walked to the locker room, his left arm pinned to his side, his fingers outstretched and as stiff as a No. 2 pencil.
And before anyone had even noticed, Beaubois -- his ring finger popped back into place and squeezed next to his middle finger with white tape -- was back on the bench.
Moments later he was back on the floor. The 6-foot-2 guard, who got an important start with Jason Kidd and Jason Terry taking the night off, put on a show against the Eastern Conference's best team and last season's MVP.
Beaubois' 16 points -- 10 in the fourth quarter -- five assists and six rebounds in a team-high 38 minutes didn't lead the Mavs to a victory. Dallas lost 93-83 in a game that was closer than the score indicated, but Beaubois went mano-a-mano with Derrick Rose for large chunks of time, turning in an overall effort that his teammates needed to see.
Recently back from a nagging calf strain and fresh off a clunker Friday night against Golden State, Beaubois earned serious cred in the locker room and a measure of trust among his peers by coming back out and not backing down.
"To see him come back out there and play, a lot of guys would just cash it in," said Shawn Marion, who has played half his career with a grotesquely crooked left pinkie from an untold number of dislocations. "Some good things are rubbing off on him. To see him come back out and play, I loved it, I respect that. We're going into the playoffs and that is a whole different monster and we're going to need everyone."
His role in this season's title defense is anything but settled. With Kidd and Terry, West and Vince Carter, minutes will be hard to come by. But just like last year, the Mavs will need something from everyone along the way.
They lost Jose Juan Barea and his ability to collapse defenses and get to the rim or set up shooters at the arc, a skill so crucial to last year's run. Beaubois' flame flickers high and low, still far too inconsistently and perplexingly so even to the team's owner.
"I think as he gets more aggressive and just gets a killer, aggressive mindset, then he's unstoppable," Mark Cuban said prior to the game. "He's got to be a lot more aggressive going to the basket and I don't know why he is sometimes and not other times."
It won't take long for Beaubois to find the bench once the playoffs start if he doesn't bring the fire. On Saturday, he actually surged after a sluggish start and then the injury. He hit a remarkable reverse hook soon after he returned. He split two defenders and scored in the fourth to bring the Mavs to within 78-76. His drives opened space at the arc, where he buried two 3s in the fourth before the short-handed Mavs faded.
Carlisle is Beaubois' biggest fan and greatest critic who has half-joked about having to pry the 185-pounder off the floor with a spatula whenever he hit the floor during practices as a rookie. He has all too often had to urge Beaubois to match his propensity for flair with toughness, but he praised him profusely on this night.
"This is an important night because this is one of the more physical teams. The playoffs are going to be physical," Carlisle said. "Not only did he hold up to the physicality of the game, he went out with a significant injury and bounced back and came back in. He hasn't always been able to do that. I pointed that out at halftime that it was great that he bounced back and again after the game to the whole team.
Carlisle called it a step in the right direction as far as Beaubois' readiness to handle postseason pressure is concerned. Too often against elite teams, the game has been bigger than Beaubois.
For at least one night, Beaubois, who mostly shrugged off the effort and repeated his mantra of still needing to get better and to trust himself to be aggressive with his drives, gave his coach and his teammates reason to believe that they can trust him when it counts.
And that's a significant step for Beaubois, as his best friend on the team, Ian Mahinmi, quickly recognized.
"It's very important, not especially for the team but for anybody that doubted Roddy's toughness," Mahinmi said. "I think it's a good answer to come back and play like that. It's a tough thing to do and the way he handled himself, you've got to give him props for that."