Darren Collison got a chance to close a game and delivered.
Collison, the starting point guard who sat and watched 37-year-old Mike James play down the stretch of the previous two games, drilled a corner 3-pointer with 31 seconds remaining that pushed the Mavericks’ lead back to five points in Sunday’s win over the Orlando Magic.
“Biggest play of the game,” coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. “It was pretty clear at that time we need to space the floor and Vince [Carter] penetrated and he had three options. Darren stepped into that thing with a lot of confidence and knocked it in. Plays like that define guys that can close games, so that’s a big shot; big shot for us, big shot for him, and we really needed it.”
Carlisle’s lack of confidence in Collison’s closing ability has been apparent throughout the season. And Carlisle had legitimate reasons to doubt, considering that Collison’s shaky decision-making has been a factor in the Mavs’ 8-17 record in games that were within three points in the final minute.
Derek Fisher immediately got those duties, as well as the starting job, when the Mavs recruited him out of his rocking chair. Of course, Fisher owns five NBA championship rings, so he arrived in Dallas with terrific track record as a closer, although he opted not to stay very long.
James is on his second 10-day contract, just scrapping to extend his NBA career. However, Carlisle values his savvy and physical defense, which is why he opted to go with James with the game on the line against Houston’s Jeremy Lin and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
Collison kept his cool – “I’m a team player,” he said when reporters prodded him about his crunch-time spectator status – and his confidence. He’s been playing well, averaging an efficient 13.8 points and 6.6 assists with only 1.4 turnovers in the last five games, drawing frequent praise from Dirk Nowitzki for making dramatic improvement and not going into the tank with Carlisle being tough on him.
The corner 3 was the biggest statement Collison could make that he’s able to help the Mavs during crunch time.
“We want Darren to step in and take those shots when he is open,” Nowitzki said. “I think sometimes he passes up too many of them and he is a good shooter. That was fun to watch.”
A few more notes from the Mavs’ fifth win in six games:
1. Brand starts second half: Was Elton Brand starting the second half at center a sign of things to come? Carlisle has acknowledged considering using Brand as a starter with Chris Kaman coming off the bench, but he’s been hesitant to make that change.
However, Carlisle indicated the lineup change after halftime was a situational decision, made because Brand got hot in the first half.
“He had a great rhythm going in the second quarter so I decided to roll with it, and then as luck would have it, with kind of how things have gone this year, he kind of went cold the start of the third,” Carlisle said. “The irony was Kaman gave us a huge lift off the bench. He gave us the same lift that Elton gave us in the first half. He played strong, he gave us an inside game, he hit a couple of shots, got to the free-throw line. I thought he played one of his stronger segments of minutes.”
Brand, the Mavs’ best interior defender, finished with 14 points on 7-of-13 shooting, his fifth consecutive game scoring in double figures. Kaman had 13 points and eight rebounds after totaling 12 points and nine rebounds in the previous two games.
2. Better late than never: The recent trend of Nowitzki finishing strong after struggling for three quarters continued.
Nowitzki had half of his 12 points in the fourth quarter. He was 4-of-11 from the floor, 2-of-3 in the fourth quarter. It was the third consecutive game Nowitzki had at least half of his points in the fourth quarter.
With Nowitzki off most of the night, the Mavs had seven scorers finish in double figures, led by Shawn Marion’s season-high-tying 20 points. The Mavs are 9-3 this season when they have at least six players in double figures.
“Balance has got to be one of the keys to our team,” Carlisle said. “Until Dirk gets all the way back we can’t keep it all on him, we can’t keep it all on anybody the way we’re set up now. Our approach is to be a balanced team.”
3. Roddy B(enched): After being a DNP-CD in the previous two games, Rodrigue Beaubois was a healthy inactive Sunday. Carlisle opted to dress Dominique Jones instead of Beaubois, who had lost the backup point guard job to James. Beaubois, a four-year veteran in the final season of his rookie contract, is averaging career lows in points, rebounds, minutes and every shooting category.