For Devin Harris, the playoffs have afforded him a chance for redemption.
A chance to prove that he really did deserve that three-year, $9 million free agent contract the Dallas Mavericks offered him last summer, then abruptly pulled when they discovered a medical issue with his left foot.
After surgery last Aug. 6, it took more than five months of rehab before Harris finally got on the basketball court. Now, two games into the Mavs’ first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs, Harris has been dominant.
He’s been more impactful than Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Tim Duncan or Tony Parker. And who would have thought that a year ago when Harris was averaging 11.3 points and 3.7 assists in an opening-round playoff series for the Atlanta Hawks.
“It’s been a long road since the summer,” Harris, a backup point guard, said after Friday’s practice. “We’ve had a lot of things happen, but I stayed positive and worked hard and obviously we’re in a good situation now.”
Did Harris have any doubts he would be able to regain his speed?
“You have doubts, but I don’t think it was that significant,’’ said Harris, who didn’t play his first game this season until Jan. 18. “It crossed my mind a couple times, especially after the stress fracture, because we were so close at that point in time.
“We had to express some patience and just continue to work. I knew at some point I’d be able to get back. I just didn’t know when.’’
In the Mavs’ 90-85 loss to the San Antonio Spurs last Sunday, Harris came off the bench to score a team-high 19 points and dispense a team-high five assists in 32 minutes. During the Mavs’ 113-92 victory on Wednesday, Harris scored 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting and a team-high-tying five assists.
“Devin’s played well, but the biggest thing he’s done is played hard,” coach Rick Carlisle said.
After losing his three-year deal, Harris signed a one-year, $1.27 million free agent contract with Dallas. He gives the Mavs a dimension they only receive from Monta Ellis. He has an aggressive, attack-the-basket offensive game that gives defenses fits.
“I thought when he came back in January, that’s kind of when we were all healthy and that’s when we really started playing well on the road,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “He’s a big key for us off the bench.
“I’ve said it all year, and he and Monta have a lot of responsibility to get in the paint for us and get other guys shots [and] get themselves shots. He’s been great on both ends of the floor.”
Harris downplays his play against the Spurs.
“I’ve just been reading the defense, taking what they give me,” he said. “Obviously the pull-up two has been there.
“It’s more to do with who we have on the floor than anything else. We space the floor so good with Vince [Carter] and Dirk on the other side, it’s giving me room to operate in the middle.”
The Mavs will need Harris’ operating Saturday at American Airlines Center when the Mavs host the Spurs in Game 3.
“It’s why I wanted to come back, to be in this type of situation and play in these types of games and be in this type of series,” Harris said. “It’s perfect fitting for me.
“Obviously I had to change a lot of things within my mechanics. But it was positive to know that I could still be an active player.”
Dirk Nowitzki was announced Friday as the recipient of the Magic Johnson Award, which recognizes excellence on the court with cooperation with the fans and media.
The award is given by the Pro Basketball Writers Association.
“It means a lot to me,’’ Nowitzki said, while smiling.“I came over here when I was 20 and I said ‘I have to win the Magic Johnson Award one time in my career.’ ”