HOUSTON -- Raymond Felton hasn’t had a whole lot of fun the past couple of seasons, so you certainly can’t blame him for savoring this moment.
It has been a while since the guard had the ball in his hands during closing time and delivered like he did Saturday night at the Toyota Center.
Felton halted Houston’s momentum with a deep 3-pointer over Trevor Ariza's outstretched hand with the shot clock ticking down. A few possessions later, after the Rockets trimmed the lead to 10, Felton hit a tough, off-the-dribble 19-footer over Corey Brewer. He knocked down a nearly identical shot the next trip, a dagger that sent him strutting down the court as the Rockets called timeout.
“It was just a little hop and a skip, that’s all it was,” Felton said with a big smile after his 23-point performance. He led the Mavs to a 110-98 win despite Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews resting and watching Dallas’ fourth game in five nights.
Whatever it was, it made the rest of the Mavs go wild. Everybody on the Dallas bench jumped to their feet, celebrating as if Felton had just put the finishing touches on a playoff win.
“I said to the team, screw 2011, this is the greatest win in franchise history,” Nowitzki joked.
As Nowitzki acknowledged, the joy in this win is partially due to the bad blood between the Mavs and Rockets after Houston dismissed Dallas in the first round of last season’s playoffs. But it’s largely due to the Mavs’ love of Felton.
Felton arrived in Dallas during the summer of 2014 with his reputation in tatters. He was essentially the tax in the Tyson Chandler trade after struggling through a nasty divorce with the Knicks, lowlighted by him facing felony gun charges.
Felton never was more than a fringe rotation player during his first season in Dallas. He played in only 29 games after suffering a serious high ankle sprain during the preseason.
But Felton earned the deep admiration of his Dallas teammates for how he handled the adversity. He maintained a positive, upbeat attitude even during the long stretches in which he played only garbage-time minutes. He worked relentlessly with little reward of playing time, proving himself to be a true professional and earning a lot of trust.
That’s why Felton’s moment meant so much to his Mavs teammates.
“I know it’s tough to go through a situation like he did last year, but he didn’t pout,” said guard Devin Harris, who had 15 points in the Mavs' sixth win of the young season. “He went to work and came back ready to play this year. It’s good to see him enjoying the game again.”
Added Nowitzki: “Ray went through a lot here in his first year with not playing a lot and always being a professional, so I think everybody is rooting even more for him. He’s a good dude off the floor. He’s a team guy. He’s easy to root for.”
It’s not as if Felton’s outstanding all-around performance -- he spent much of the night guarding James Harden, who made only five of his 21 shots -- should be considered some kind of fluke. Felton has been a significant contributor all season, starting when Parsons doesn’t play and leading the Mavs in plus-minus (plus-40).
“The guy’s a winner,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s not an accident. He’s been working extremely hard. He’s been busting his butt.”
But the fourth quarter, when he had 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting including that clutch sequence, was Felton’s best work in a Mavs uniform.
“Ray’s been great for us all season, but tonight he just took it to another level,” said point guard Deron Williams, who had 11 points and five assists. “They were closing in on us, and he just kind of put us on his back.”
Felton might not be the star of a Mavs win again all season, and that’s fine with him. He’s happy to be contributing to a team with playoff aspirations, and he has proven again that he’s a quality role player.
“Those who forgot about me or those who forgot about the nine years of work I put in this league before last year, just letting them know that I’m still here,” Felton said. “I still got it. I just had a bad injury. I had a lot of disappointing situations that happened off the court in New York before I got to Dallas. Nothing I can do about that. That’s behind me, that’s in the past.
“It’s really just coming out and showing everyone that I can still play basketball. That ain’t changed.”