The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 108-106, at the Moda Center on Saturday, dropping Portland's record to 17-4.
Shout out to Charles Dickens for coming up with "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" more than 150 years before the absolute duality of the Monta Ellis Experience hit the Rose City.
There aren't many players who can match Ellis's knack for both the dumbfounding and the dramatic. In the final two minutes of the fourth quarter alone, he managed to hit a three-pointer that had dagger potential, let a sure win slip out of his hands with a costly turnover, and then nail a buzzer-beating game-winner. He chose to remember the best of times afterwards, and you couldn't blame him, not after he worked free, took a dribble and knocked down a pull-up jumper in just 1.9 seconds to deliver a stunning walk-off blow that black holed the home crowd.
"I told [Vince Carter] before we walked out there, if he gave me the ball, the game was over," Ellis said, calling his shot on the game's final play. "[Jose] Calderon [and I] were walking and we made eye contact, and I told him to give me the ball, I'm ready for it. He gave it to me and I came off and hit the shot."
The hero-to-goat-to-hero pendulum swing didn't faze Ellis, who finished with 20 points (on 8-for-17 shooting) and four assists, whatsoever.
"I was born for it," he said of his game-winner. "I've been taking that shot all my life. I love that time of game and I've hit a couple game-winners in my career. At that point of the game, you always like to have that confidence to take that last shot and I got it. I have the ability to make those shots. Coach gave me the ball and I knocked the shot down."
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle wasn't completely enthralled by his team's handling of the endgame -- "We shouldn't have been in that situation" -- but he still drew up the final play for Ellis, even though Dirk Nowitzki was scorching hot and even though Ellis had committed the rough turnover just a few seconds earlier. It was clear that Carlisle made the right call on the final possession because 1) his approach caught Portland by surprise, 2) the execution left Portland paralyzed, and 3) it paid off with the win (duh).
With 1.9 seconds remaining, Calderon inbounded the ball from the left sideline. Ellis used one screen from Nowitzki and then a second from DeJuan Blair before catching the ball on a curl at the top of the arc. Using one dribble to get into a shooting motion, Ellis had a clear look at the basket because LaMarcus Aldridge remained in the key, protecting against the possibility of a drive or a pass on a slip play. Wesley Matthews was caught up on Blair's screen long enough for Ellis to get a shot off without a true contesting effort. A flying, outstretched left arm from Matthews wasn't enough to prevent Ellis from sinking his winner, which swished through just after the buzzer went off.
"It was a well drawn-up play," a visibly frustrated Matthews said, as he slumped at his locker and took questions while still wearing his jersey. "[Ellis] came off a simple curl line and he was able to get the catch, get one dribble. I tried to contest from behind but it was too late, he made the shot. I don't know without looking at it [if there was a breakdown]. We'd have to watch it. There's probably something we could have done, I don't know. It happened quick. I knew he was going to curl that. I guess I didn't think he was going to get the ball as quick as he did and be as free as he was."
Part of the reason Ellis was so open, Damian Lillard explained, was because the Blazers had only planned to switch on guard-to-guard screens. Dallas set both of its screens for Ellis using their bigs, and Portland wasn't going to leave Nowitzki under any circumstances, not even for a switch. Had a Mavericks guard set one of the screens for Ellis, perhaps there would have been someone waiting on the other side for him. Instead, Aldridge wasn't there because he felt he was doing his job on the play by manning the middle.
"I don't know the whole thing because I wasn't guarding Ellis," Aldridge, who finished with 19 points (on 7-for-16 shooting) and 13 rebounds, said of the final defensive play. "I was trying to watch Dirk, zone up and protect the basket. I saw Ellis come off, by the time I looked up, [the ball] was already in the air."
There was a moment when Aldridge thought about stepping out, but he concluded that it was "too late" to impact Ellis's look.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts said he instructed his team to closely guard Nowitzki, Ellis and Vince Carter and admitted that it was "hard to predict what they're going to do" with those three weapons on the court.
"We just wanted to stay as tight as we could," Stotts said. "Blair set a good screen. We wanted to stay as tight as we could on those three guys in particular. Make them work for the shot. ... I don't know [if Aldridge should have stepped out]. It happened so fast. L.A. was in a position, with a tie game, you're worried about slips to the basket. [If] two guys go to Ellis, then Blair slips and gets a lay-up, so I think that's a tough call."
The dismay that many fans expressed at the open look had merit but this wasn't as open and shut as the highlight reel makes it out to be, largely because of the Fear of Dirk factor. Nowitzki finished with a team-high 30 points (on 13-for-23 shooting) and he had 12 points in the final period. The Blazers seemed to assume that Ellis's curl route would be the misleading action that set up Nowitzki. Instead, it was the presence and threat of Nowitzki that temporarily distracted the Blazers away from Ellis, and kept Aldridge in a retreating position in the paint.
"I was [expecting it to go to Nowitzki]," Aldridge told Blazersedge. "I think everybody thought it was going to Dirk, but they used him as a little decoy and Ellis came off open."
Once Ellis dribbled, though, he was fully committed to shooting. (Really, once he stepped onto the court for the final possession he was committed to shooting, as he said, but the dribble formally sealed it.) A late contesting effort from Aldridge after Ellis's dribble almost certainly wouldn't have exposed Portland inside, given the clock situation. But would a close out from Aldridge have mattered? Probably not. There wasn't much time to close the large gap that existed between his original position and Ellis. In a best-case scenario, Aldridge probably would have been waving in vain just like Matthews. That's better than nothing, and better than what happened, but not really worthy of spilled milk tears.
There were plenty of laments for Portland after this one, even if they weren't dwelling on that final play in particular. Multiple players mentioned communication issues on defense, as the Blazers tried to change up their defensive coverages on pick-and-rolls involving on Calderon and Nowitzki. Stotts fell on that sword during his post-game comments, saying that those problems were "on me." Sloppy turnoves also popped up again, especially early, and a season-low 30 percent three-point shooting (9-for-30) tempered Portland's offensive peaks. Matthews finished with just four points (on 2-for-10 shooting), and he beat himself up a bit over his individual performance.
"Nothing ever comes down to the last possession in a game like this," he told Blazersedge. "Everything adds up, everything builds up. If I didn't go two for whatever the hell I shot, it's a different game."
Ellis turning down the Moda Center from 11 to 0 at the last possible moment was a suitable conclusion for a game that saw a push-and-pull fourth quarter. Dallas kept providing steely counters to Portland's momentum-building plays, and Carlisle did well in using his timeouts to navigate the brewing storm.
A Lillard driving lay-up with just under seven minutes remaining brought Dallas's lead down to five points after it had reached as high as 10. The degree-of-difficulty on that play was high, as was the force of Lillard's happy chest-thumping. The Mavericks called timeout, though, and Carter managed to temporarily hush the place with a lay-up on the move. That basket didn't slow down Lillard, who had 13 of his game-high 32 points (on 9-for-18 shooting) in the fourth quarter, but it pushed back just enough. When Lillard hit back-to-back three-pointers to tie the game with just under four minutes remaining, Carlisle took another timeout to cool things down again. That decision immediately paid off with two quick jumpers from Nowitzki to push Dallas back to a four-point lead.
"Rick is a good coach," Stotts said, paying respect to his former boss. "He gets the ball to players where they can be effective. ... Dirk coming up and hitting those jumpers, I thought they were decently contested, and that's what great players do."
The Mavericks' parrying continued until the game's final 45 seconds, when Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard hit a pair of three-pointers that sandwiched around Ellis's turnover. Batum and Matthews had crowded Ellis near halfcourt, and as Matthews moved in for a tie up, the ball flipped out of Ellis's hands and out of bounds. No foul was called, but both Batum and Matthews were hopping mad -- literally hopping -- before a video review flipped possession from Dallas to Portland.
Lillard's three -- a nice mix of smart design and improvisation -- followed out of the ensuing timeout. With 6.8 seconds on the clock and Portland down by three, Lillard inbounded from the left sideline to Aldridge at the high post, before cutting hard to the middle of the court. He received the return pass in stride and lost Shawn Marion with a pump-fake before uncorking a double-clutch, leaning three-pointer.
"I knew I would get a good look," Lillard said. "We ran a play similar to that a couple of times and we came off open every time. Shawn Marion, he knew I was coming off trying to raise up. I knew he would jump. I head-faked him but he didn't jump as far up as I thought he would, so I jumped to the side. The shot went in, I wasn't sure if I was on the line or not."
Replays were inconclusive as to whether Lillard's foot was on the line and the referees really had no good angles to work with in making their decision. They let the three-pointer stand as called, setting the stage for Ellis's heroics.
"We're down six with 40 seconds to go and we make two threes," Batum said, with a wry smile. "[I was thinking], OK, they can't make the last shot. And then they made it."
This group's season has been charmed throughout, and the silence that greeted reporters when the locker room doors opened looked to be of the dazed variety, rather than the downtrodden. It didn't seem to matter that multiple games between these two teams in recent years have been decided in the final seconds. Ellis just came off that curl so quickly, he pulled up so quickly, and he hit the shot so quickly that this loss became one that got away before anyone had fully realized what had happened.
"I hate to lose a game like that," Lillard concluded. "I'd rather be blown out than lose at the buzzer."
Random Game Notes
- The attendance was announced at 20,142, which is a sellout. It was just about packed. Hooray.
- For some reason, the official scorebook credited Monta Ellis with Dirk Nowitzki's jumper at the 45 second mark of the fourth quarter. Presumably that will get changed upon review on Sunday? I updated their stats in this post to reflect the bucket as Nowitzki's.
- Videos above via YouTube user firstandskol.
- I enjoyed this fan's sign for Dirk Nowitzki: "German Sausage Made Dirk Big & Strong."
- Almost too many signs to keep up with at this game. The best one: "We're going to beat a dead horse" with the Mavericks logo succumbing to a beating. A little gruesome but nice wordplay. Someone went back to the "Dallas: Softer Than Drake" well again. One holiday themed: "Fa la la la la LaMarcus." One lady had an "I'm with stupid" sign because her man-friend was wearing a Nowitzki jersey. Another one: "Lillard is the Rain Maker." One lady went with "We're going streaking again," but Dallas put an end to that. Finally: "Mo Da Man."
- Speaking of Williams, he pulled up in transition and missed a three-pointer with under 10 seconds remaining and the Blazers down three. This was the possession directly before Ellis's late turnover. Some wondered why Portland didn't take a timeout in that situation and why Williams was the one shooting. I see that play as the flip side of Batum's kill-shot three during the Oklahoma City game. Shooters are either empowered to shoot clean threes when they are open in game-deciding situations, or they aren't. You can't have it both ways.
- Williams entered the game as a 40 percent shooter from deep this season, although that number took a hit with his 0-for-4 night from deep. Regardless, he was wide open. I didn't have a problem with it. I could go either way on whether Portland should have called timeout in that situation but this was one sequence that the Blazers weren't lamenting afterwards. A lot of newer-school basketball minds prefer no timeout in that situation because there's no set defense to shoot against.
- Lillard on Williams' three: "That was the right play. We came down and I think we were down three, [the Mavericks] got lost. We had two guys running on the right side of the floor wide open. Mo is a good shooter and he was wide open, that's the shot. If it happened 50 more times, we'd do the same thing. We weren't going to get a better shot [after a timeout] than the shot we got in that situation. That worked out perfect."
- Well, almost perfect.
- One other interesting coaching decision: the Mavericks elected not to foul when up by three points on Portland's final possession. They had a good opportunity when the inbounds pass went to Aldridge, who wasn't in a position to catch-and-shoot with his back to the basket. Time/score-wise, it was a pretty textbook opportunity to foul when up by three.
- However, as Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune found out, Rick Carlisle didn't want to hear any Monday morning quarterbacking on that particular sequence. Pretty funny set-up from Eggers on the decision and hilariously defensive quotes from the coach. Definitely worth a read.
- Aldridge had a shiner and a cut under his left eye during his post-game comments and he said that he was fouled on the play, even though Dallas didn't mean to and even though it wasn't whistled. Before he passed to Lillard, Aldridge did catch some contact to the face. He briefly staggered, but didn't lose the ball.
- Matthews, having an up close and personal view of Ellis's shot, was the player who seemed to take this loss the hardest. "It sucks. That was our game. We were supposed to win that."
- Aldridge had a little bit more distance in his view of the loss: "It was back-and-forth all game long. We made runs, they made runs too. We never really had control of the game but they were always there. ... I don't think [the game] was ours."
- Lillard on the loss: "We have to let it go. It's not like we can go back and play the game over again. It's over with."
- Lillard's description of defending Nowitzki sounded an awful lot like his recent description of defending Aldridge: "We're not going to block it because he's so tall with a high release. Hands in his face, guys were being physical with him. He just made tough shots."
- How about that sweet high post pass from Robin Lopez through two defenders to a cutting Thomas Robinson?
- How about that insane help double team from Gal Mekel on LaMarcus Aldridge? Just racing at him full speed. That's one way to keep a star off balance.
- How about that hustle play under the basket from DeJuan Blair to save a possession for Dallas that ultimately led to Nowitzki cashing in at the 45-second mark?
- It never gets old watching Nowitzki's pre-game routine of shooting one-legged jumpers (going left, right, forward and backwards, and shooting off of either leg). A craftsman.
- Mavericks assistant coach Kaleb Canales was no less popular Saturday in his first return trip to Portland than he was the last time he was in town. He has Bill Schonely potential way, way down the line. Always good to see him.
- The scoreboard showed "Batum and Robin" comic book style graphics when the two connected on one first-half play.
- Portland clinched the McMuffins right at the 2:00 mark of the fourth. There wasn't much of a "Cha-Lu-Pa" chant to be heard (if any at all) as everyone was screaming "Dee-fense!" instead (to no avail, as Ellis buried a three shortly thereafter). There was no Ronald McDonald and no "Mick-ee-dees" instructions again.
- The next few bullets are some housekeeping links from the last day or two.
- Dave went on 750 AM The Game on Friday with Chad Doing. Here's audio if you're interested.
- Mike Acker of the Willamette Week had a nice rundown of the Blazers' success for SheridanHoops.com.
- I mentioned in Friday's recap that Nicolas Batum wrote a tribute to Nelson Mandela on his shoes. Erik Gundersen of The Columbian has an extended story with quotes from Batum on what Mandela means to him.
- Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com got post-game reaction from Meyers Leonard regarding his first real minutes of the season (on Friday against the Jazz).
- Thanks to the young fans in the luxury box who offered kind words about the site and said "hello." Always appreciated.
I'm doing an "AMA" with the Reddit NBA community next week. Details here.
Terry Stotts' Post-Game Comments
It was a pretty good game. Dallas is an effective offensive team. Any time Dirk is on the court it creates problems for everybody as far as pick-and-roll coverages. His presence on the court makes a difference. He made big shots late in the fourth, that's what he's done throughout his career. I was pleased with the way we competed, particularly in the second half. It was a good game, we just came up short.
What did they do to spring Monta Ellis?
They set a double screen, Blair set a good screen on Wes. It was a good play, good screen, Wes fought over it, he got a look.
Expecting them to go to Monta Ellis?
With the players they had on the court, Vince Carter, who can get his shot, Dirk who can get his shot, Ellis who can get his shot. It's hard to predict what they're going to do. We just wanted to stay tight as we could. Blair set a good screen. We wanted to stay as tight as we could on those three guys in particular. Make them work for the shot.
Should LaMarcus Aldridge step out on Ellis there?
I don't know. It happened so fast. L.A. was in a position, with a tie game you're worried about slips to the basket. Two guys go to Ellis and then Blair slips and gets a lay-up so I think that's a tough call.
Fight back at the end
We were down six, it wasn't looking good. Nic hit a nice three, Dame hit his three. Got stops when we needed to. This team keeps fighting. I don't think there's ever a point where we think we're necessarily out of it. The shots Dirk hit, the free throw jumpers, drawing fouls, he hit a post-up. He had a great performance late when it counted. Our team, we compete, that's all you can ask.
Mavericks coming out of timeouts in the fourth
Dirk's a great player. Rick is a good coach. He gets the ball to players where they can be effective. To be honest I don't remember the Vince play you're talking about, but Dirk coming up and hitting those jumpers, I thought they were decently contested, and that's what great players do.
Same as I usually think about Damian. He competes, he takes big shots. He likes the moment. He takes advantage of them. His two back-to-back threes got us back in earlier, obviously the three to tie the game [too]. He competed defensively. We changed some coverages. The first half we tried to do something different with Calderon's pick-and-rolls and that was on me. The defense on Calderon, we tried to change our coverages on Dirk, which we didn't work. To answer your question, Damian competes.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter