Down 3-0, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle only promised one thing on Sunday.
He believed in his team’s heart and predicted the Mavs would play hard.
What Carlisle didn’t reveal was that he was going to unleash a championship-tested secret weapon on the Houston Rockets in hopes of avoiding a four-game sweep in the Western Conference first-round series.
Carlisle trotted out a new lineup with guard J.J. Barea and Al-Farouq Aminu joining Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki in the starting lineup. It was the first start of the series for Barea and Aminu.
“They’ve been two of the most effective players in the series,” Carlisle said.
Call it desperation. Call it ingenuity. Or call it straight genius.
The 2011 NBA Finals changed when Carlisle put Barea in the starting lineup for Game 4. The Mavs won the last three games of the series to claim their only title.
This time it was all about survival with Barea again giving the Mavs the spark they needed in a 121-109 victory to force a Game 5 in Houston at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
He scored 12 points the first half en route to to 17 points to supplement leading scorer Monte Ellis’ 31 points.
The turning point came in the second quarter when Barea, Aminu and reserve Charlie Villanueva led the Mavs on a 30-12 run to end the first half and take a 61-53 lead into the break.
The Mavs continued to surge in the third quarter as they blew the game open, taking a 94-75 lead into the fourth quarter.
Barea again was the spark plug with five points in the period.
Barea also added a playoff career-high 13 assists.
Aminu making money
Al-Farouq Aminu signed a two-year deal with the Mavericks last summer with a player option to the second year.
He was likely already going to opt out of the contract in search of more money.
But after his impressive run in the playoffs, Aminu will be striking while the iron is hot.
After averaging just 5.8 points a game in the regular season, Aminu has seen an increased role in the playoffs because of injuries.
He scored 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting, including 2 of 3 from deep, in the 130-128 loss to the Rockets in Game 3.
But Aminu was inserted in the starting lineup in Game 4, not just for his outside shooting but because of his length and perimeter defense.
He is the Mavs’ best perimeter defender and was given the task of guarding MVP candidate James Harden.
The strategy worked early when Harden was forced into a rare 8-second violation.
Harden led the Rockets with 24 points on 7-of-15 shooting, but he was definitely bothered by Aminu, shooting just 1 of 7 from 3.
Aminu also gave the Mavs a spark offensively with 16 points. He only missed two of his six shots and was a sizzling 3 of 4 from his favorite spot for the corner 3.
Not only were the 16 points a playoff career high but so were his robust 12 rebounds.
“His offensive game has really improved,” Carlisle said. “He impacted the game in many ways.”
Dirk the closer
Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki was the accidental tourist for much of the game Sunday.
After a vintage 34-point night in the Game 3 loss, he scored just two points in the first half and had just six points after three quarters while the Mavericks were blowing the game open.
But with the Rockets making a fourth-quarter run to trim a 19-point deficit, Nowitzki showed his closing skills. He had 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter to help secure the victory.
The always-clutch Nowitzki made 4 of 6 shots in the fourth quarter and added two free throws.
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760