Dallas Mavericks guard Monta Ellis wants one thing clear: “This is still Dirk’s team.”
That’s true and it will always remain so as long as star forward Dirk Nowitzki, a future Hall of Famer, remains with the Mavericks.
But there is no question that the Mavericks are heading to Game 7 in the first-round playoff series against the Spurs because it was Ellis who took over when it mattered most Friday night.
Ellis had 29 points to lead Dallas to a 113-111 victory over the San Antonio Spurs before a delirious crowd of 20,799 at American Airlines Center.
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He had 22 points in the second half, including 12 in fourth quarter when the Mavericks rallied from an 81-76 third-quarter deficit for the victory.
It was only the second time this season that the Spurs lost after leading after three quarters. They are now 55-2 in those situations.
“He was great in the second half,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “In the first half, it was hard for him to get in a rhythm. I told him at halftime he needed to stay in attack mode and keep his energy up. When he came back in, he made huge plays.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had one word to describe the way Ellis sliced through the defense for drives and jumpers: “Speed.”
Ellis used that speed and shot-making ability to help hold off the Spurs in the fourth quarter, offsetting the play of Spurs guard Tony Parker, who nearly brought them back for the victory.
“He played well,” Parker said. “He made some tough shots. He made some 3s. When he scores like that, he is tough to stop. We are going to have to control him.”
As Carlisle said, the Spurs had Ellis under control early. He had only seven points at halftime and too many turnovers.
Ellis got down on himself at the break and it was his teammates who told him to keep pushing.
“My teammates just told me be aggressive,” Ellis said. “Throughout the game they told me we are going to keep it close and the fourth quarter is yours. I just had to be more aggressive. I wasn’t aggressive enough in the first half. I didn’t put any pressure on the defense. My teammates did a great job keeping me in spirit.”
It was Nowitzki who played well early to keep the Mavericks within fighting distance. He scored 18 of his 22 points through the first three quarters.
He acknowledged it was Ellis’ time in the fourth.
“We said it in the huddle, ‘This is the fourth quarter and this is our season,’ ” Nowitzki said. “We attacked. Monta was in ultimate attack mode all the way down.”
In each victory for the Mavericks during this series, it’s a different player who steps up.
That’s how this team was constructed in the preseason, so Nowitzki wouldn’t have the burden of carrying the load all the time.
It’s one reason why Ellis said it remains “Dirk’s team.”
But it was Ellis’ time in the fourth quarter on Friday night.
“It’s still Dirk’s team,” Ellis said. “It’s the flow of the game. If it was the other way around and Dirk hit a lot of points down the stretch, the ball would be in his hands. We are going off the flow of the game.”
Ellis’ flow has the Mavericks headed to Game 7.
Among the 20,000-plus in attendance was SMU coach Larry Brown, who led the Mustangs to the finals of the NIT.