DALLAS — By captivating coincidence, on the 30th anniversary of the Dallas Mavericks’ memorable Moody Madness game, Saturday’s ending was ... Vinsanity.Vinsanity 2.0, actually. Or maybe, considering the many NBA lives of 37-year-old Vince Carter, it was Vinsanity 4, 5 or 6.0 that erupted as the final horn sounded.No Mavericks fan of (ahem) a certain age can forget the Rolando Blackman jump shot and the dizzying overtime finish that accompanied the night of April 26, 1984. Exiled to SMU because of, yes, a tennis tournament, the Mavericks clinched their first NBA playoff series in front of a snug audience of 9,007.This wasn’t a series clincher. The upstart Mavericks have a 2-1 lead over the San Antonio Spurs in their best-of-seven first-round series.But Saturday’s Game 3 conclusion, a 109-108 victory at the end of Carter’s buzzer-beating rainbow, trumped anything that the night at Moody saw. It took only 1.7 seconds for the Spurs, the Western Conference’s reigning giant all season, to fall.Only 1.7 seconds for the Mavericks’ Jose Calderon to watch Monta Ellis flash to the top of the circle and then find Carter breaking for the far left corner.“It was a great catch,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, “and Jose did a great job of getting him the ball, because [Manu] Ginobili was denying it.”Why Ginobili chose to lunge at the inbounds pass is curious. He then compounded the mistake by leaving his feet, reaching for a shot that Carter never made. Instead, Carter faked, planted his feet firmly and let the Mavericks’ playoff future sail where it may.Swish! Instant Vinsanity.That’s what they used to call him in Toronto, when he was making All-Star teams and winning dunk contests and inspiring dreams with the young Raptors. He was Vinsanity, or Air Canada, or “Half-Man, Half-Amazing.”Long ago, in another playoff Game 3 against Philadelphia, Carter broke loose for 50 points.But that was a long time ago, Carter himself reminded after Saturday’s game-winner. That was years and four teams ago.When Carter, who was supposed to be the next Jordan, failed to deliver with Jordan-esque championships, he was branded as an overpaid underachiever. A nice guy who didn’t finish last — but not first, either.Who really knows why? Carlisle didn’t coach that Vince Carter. But he knows the one he has now, and he paid him a high, heartfelt compliment after Saturday’s stirring finish.“Vince really deserves it,” Carlisle said. “He’s been so good for us, and he’s been about so many of the right things.“You always hope that a guy like that can have a moment like this in a big playoff game.”For now, the game was big. Immense, even, if the Mavericks really are turning the page towards their next postseason chapter.For three games in this series, they have played the mighty Spurs to a standstill — and, in some cases, beyond. In Game 3, the lead changed hands 18 times and the Mavericks overcame a nine-point deficit.Each game of the best-of-seven series has seen a different set of Mavericks stand and be counted. In Game 1’s stout, but losing effort, it was Devin Harris. Game 2 was DeJuan Blair. And on Saturday, it was Carter’s turn and Monta Ellis’ and Samuel Dalembert’s. Ellis led the Mavericks with 29 points and played the entire day with the confidence he showed for most of the regular season. “It’s great,” Ellis cautioned, anyway. “But we’ve still got to stay the course. We know they’re going to come back with a vengeance.”Dalembert, meanwhile, was a game-long force in the middle, grabbing 10 rebounds, blocking four shots and scoring 13 points. “Sam had a different motor tonight,” Carter said.“We need his presence out there.”It was Carter’s role, however, to bring down the house Saturday. Fresh in his mind, he said, was the 2001 game against the Sixers when he missed what would have been a last-second, series-deciding shot.But that was the old Vince Carter. This is the new one. New team, new coach, new insanities to ignite.Moody Madness?This one may end up being remembered more giddily. But that’s for the Mavericks, ahead two games to one, to decide.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton