DALLAS --The season began with sacrifice for Shawn Marion, who sucked up his pride and accepted a reserve role for the first time in his 12-year career.
The Matrix played a starring role, however, as the Mavericks punched their tickets to the NBA Finals.
Marion scored a season-high 26 points in Wednesday’s West-title-clinching win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. He also had another outstanding defensive effort on NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, who shot only 37.5 percent from the floor and committed 13 turnovers during Dallas’ three consecutive wins.
“When he plays like that,” Jason Terry said, “he takes this team to another level.”
But his personal performance didn’t make the win any more satisfying for Marion. He didn’t take any extra pleasure in outscoring Durant, who finished with 23 points on 8-of-20 shooting, in the series finale.
Marion stopped worrying about individual glory when he arrived in Dallas before last season. He took that another step by coming off the bench for most of this season, even after Caron Butler suffered a season-ending knee injury.
As long as the four-time All-Star helps the Mavs win, he’s happy,
“Man, this is what we work hard for,” Marion said. “This is what it’s about. All the sacrifices you made, it’s about team. At the end of the day, hopefully we’ll be holding that big crown up, and that’s what it’s all about. We’ve got four more to win.”
Not that Marion doesn’t still have a lot of personal pride. That was challenged after the first two games of the West finals, when teammates and coaches were critical of Marion’s too-passive performance during film sessions and team meetings.
“In OKC, man, he hit the switch,” DeShawn Stevenson said. “He hit it and he’s been there ever since.”
Marion’s defense on Durant keyed the Mavs’ three wins since their short flight across the Red River.
“Trix loves the challenge,” Jason Kidd said. “That’s the first thing. Durant has led the league in scoring and he’s one of the best players in the world. [Marion] looks for tendencies, but he’s athletic, too. He’s long and just tries to contest every shot. Durant is going to make some, but you just hope that he misses at the right time.”
His 18-point, 9-of-13 shooting outing in Game 3 helped offset a rare off night by Dirk Nowitzki. And Marion was at his slashing best in the series finale, hitting 10-of-17 shots from the floor and scoring seven points during the series-closing 14-4 run in the final 4:25.
Marion’s steal and breakaway slam dunk – plus a foul – to make it a two-possession game in the final minute will go down as one of the unforgettable moments in Mavs’ playoff history.
“He’s proving right now to everybody that he’s about one thing, and that’s winning,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s an integral part of what we’re doing. He’s one of our stars.”