DALLAS -- Caron Butler nearly put the final dagger in his former team. He had been landing darts all night. This 3-pointer for the win from the right wing looked dead-on, but skipped off the front of the rim.
“It felt real good. I got my feet up under me, followed through, it was a routine shot, just fell a little short," Butler said after registering a season-high 23 points in the 96-92 loss with his new team, the Los Angeles Clippers. "It would have been a great ending to the game."
It was an emotional night all the way around for Butler, who has clearly worked himself all the way back from the devastating knee injury that ended his season a year ago New Year's Day, and forced him to become the hardest-working bystander on the Mavs' title team. Monday night was his first time back in Dallas since the parade and the Mavs presented him with the diamond-encrusted championship ring during a brief pre-game ceremony.
Coach Rick Carlisle introduced Butler to the sellout crowd by sharing the story that he hates happened, but loves to tell -- about when Butler ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee and crumpled to the floor in Milwaukee, how he somehow managed to shove his exploded kneecap back in place and walk off the floor under his own power so his mother and other family members attending from nearby Racine wouldn't watch him leave on a stretcher.
"At that moment," Carlisle told the crowd, "the guy was a legend for life, for me."
Butler accepted his ring, held it up to the fans and tightly embraced Carlisle and owner Mark Cuban.
“I was in a good place. I was in a real good place," Butler said. "It felt good, I just really wanted to come back and step on this floor, one way or another and just show the fans that I was back healthy. There was a lot of love out there, and I appreciate that because they got me through a trying time last year.”
The Clippers will be back in April, but this trip to the club that he played just 56 of his 613 career games, but now shares a lifetime bond, served as the final act of his rehabilitation. And if receiving the ring wasn't enough, the Mavs production staff broke out Butler's popular Old Spice spoof and showed it on the video boards during a timeout.
Clippers players turned to watch, tapping teammates on the shoulder to get them to look above. Laughter broke out everywhere. Coming out of the timeout, Butler smiled and waved his arms in appreciation to the cheering crowd as he walked back onto the floor.
"It felt good," Butler said. "I just really wanted to come back and step on this floor, one way or another and just show the fans that I was back healthy. There was a lot of love out there, and I appreciate that because they got me through a trying time last year.”
Here's three more thoughts from Monday's game and with the Denver Nuggets on the way:
1. Dirk goes sleeveless: The sleeve Dirk Nowitzki has worn on his right knee most of the season was gone Monday night in perhaps what was another sign that he's back. And after the game, Nowitzki said he is all the way back, 100 percent. His shot didn't look for much of Monday's win. He finished just 5-of-15 and 2-of-7 in the fourth quarter when he still managed to score 11 of his team-high 22 points. In the last two games, Nowitzki is 12-of-35 from the floor after that blazing stretch, but he also gone to the free throw line 21 times.
2. More Brendan Haywood: Not only is owner Mark Cuban campaigning for Shawn Marion to be recognized as a top defender in the league, he also was signing the praises of starting center Brendan Haywood, who has successfully taken over Tyson Chandler's job as the backbone of a very good defense. Haywood has defended well in back-to-back games even though LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin finished games with good-looking stats. Nothing came easily for either with the larger Haywood contesting. Against the Clippers on Monday, Haywood also put up a team-high 10 points and six rebounds in the first quarter.
3. Key goals attained: The Mavs had several goals against the Los Angeles Clippers and they attained most, if not all. First, they wanted to slow down L.A.'s typically fast starts. They did, holding the Clippers to 19 first-quarter points on 36.8 shooting. It was a continuation of the Mavs' quick starts. After committing 41 turnovers in the previous two games, Dallas limited those to 11 for just 10 Clippers points. Meanwhile, the Mavs cashed in 22 points on 21 L.A. turnovers. Dallas lost the rebounding battle, 50-36, but had the edge in points in the paint (40-34) and fastbreak points (22-16). And perhaps the biggest goal attained was the victory while no Mavs player logged more than 32 minutes.