DALLAS -- A lot of former All-Stars who find themselves frequently riding the pine in fourth quarter might use a flurry of four clutch buckets in a win to lobby for more crunch-time minutes.
Not Chris Kaman, the Mavericks big man who is unique in many ways.
Kaman didn’t utter one word of complaint about sitting the entire fourth quarters of the previous five games. And he wasn’t about to start after Tuesday’s 107-100 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, when Kaman played a critical closing role by scoring eight of his 20 points in the final six minutes.
“That’s selfish,” said Kaman, who teamed with O.J. Mayo to score 17 of the Mavs' 19 last points. “That’s not team basketball to say, ‘Oh, I’m doing this good,’ because I don’t think I’ve played the way I’m capable of playing. I want to be a team guy. I want to do the right things. The right thing is to play better.”
Instead, Kaman offered legitimate reasons why coach Rick Carlisle has turned to other options down the stretch in recent games.
The 7-foot Kaman has lived up to his billing as the best offensive big man in Mavs’ history, as faint as that praise might be. He’s averaging 14.3 points on 53.1 percent shooting.
Kaman readily admits, however, that he needs to perform better defensively to deserve consistent crunch-time minutes.
In fact, he went on and on about that subject Tuesday night.
“This year, I haven’t played the defensive game that I’m capable of playing,” Kaman said, listing rebounding, shot-blocking, showing on pick-and-rolls and helping on drives to the basket as facets of the game he needed to improve. “I haven’t been the player that I’m capable of being. Part of that is a new system and trying to figure it out and fit in there and just getting a feel for the game.
“It’s frustrating to me because I know I’m better than that, and I think that’s part of the reason why I haven’t played in some of the fourth quarters. It kind of comes down to getting those stops, and I don’t think he thinks I jell well or fit well in there. I don’t know exactly what it is, but obviously if he thought I was supposed to play there, he’d put me in there. He knows what he’s doing. He’s a great coach.”
Carlisle doesn’t come across as critical when explaining why Kaman has been a crunch-time spectator recently.
Elton Brand has played well enough to earn those minutes some nights. On others, the Mavs go with smallball to get back in the game and stick with it down the stretch. And sometimes Carlisle is simply hesitant to go to Kaman again if he’s been sitting on the bench for a while and getting stiff, which is what happened before Kaman was ineffective in overtime of Saturday’s loss to Minnesota.
With Derek Fisher and Brand out Tuesday, Carlisle’s options were limited. Kaman seized the opportunity.
“It’s not like there’s a case against him,” Carlisle said. “It just depends on the nature of the game and the personality of the game. I like the way he played tonight for sure. He did a good job down the stretch. He made some shots. He was a presence around the boards. And he wants to be in there, too.”
As far as Kaman is concerned, it his job to give his coach reasons to put him on the floor with the game on the line and Carlisle’s job to make those decisions.
“To me, he’s an all-around great coach, and that’s part of the reason why I came here,” said Kaman, who had seven rebounds and one block in 30 minutes against the Sixers. “I rely on him to make the right decisions, and he does a great job of it. Every night, it’s not going to be what I want it to be.”
Kaman was what the Mavs wanted -- and needed -- in crunch time against the Sixers. That’s a start to make a case that he can help the Mavs finish on a consistent basis.