"He’s like Peter Parker," Carlisle told reporters after the Mavs’ 101-92 win Sunday over the Boston Celtics. "He must have got bitten by that radioactive spider and it put a jolt in his body where he just healed."
Carlisle, of course, was kidding about comparing Ellis to Spiderman. However, the coach was completely serious when he went on and on about how meaningful it was for Ellis to start a game less than 48 hours after tweaking his hamstring.
Even after receiving encouraging MRI results Saturday morning, the Mavs didn’t anticipate their starting shooting guard playing Sunday. Ellis pushed the issue, spending pretty much every waking moment with Mavs athletic trainer Casey Smith. With a little luck, a lot of treatment and a lot of lobbying, Ellis was available against the Celtics, just as he has been for every other game this season.
"That sends a great message to our team: guys just wanting to play and wanting to be there," Carlisle said. "And he played well, too. He didn’t have huge numbers or anything like that, but him being in the lineup was huge for us."
The line in the box score (11 points, 3-of-9 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers in 28 minutes) wasn’t one of Ellis’ best. But his determination to be there for his teammates epitomizes the intangibles in effect during the Mavs’ season-best five-game winning streak.
Speaking of miracles, center Samuel Dalembert has played big in four straight games, averaging 12.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in that span. It’s really a pretty simple formula: When Dalembert plays well, the Mavs are tough to beat.
Dallas is 16-5 when Dalembert grabs at least seven rebounds. They are 17-4 when the big man plays at least 23 minutes, which means he’s aggressive, alert and energetic enough to avoid Carlisle’s wrath.
A related stat: The Mavs are 13-3 when they outrebound their opponent. That includes the past four games.
It wasn’t long ago that Carlisle basically challenged the basketball manhood of his team, mocking them for playing so poor defensively in a Jan. 29 home loss to the Houston Rockets. He has emphasized the importance of defense and rebounding all season to the Mavs, who have a roster full of offensive weapons but personnel flaws in those departments, and been especially relentless about it recently.
The Mavs have responded and have the results to show for it.
"I think it made us work," Dirk Nowitzki said of the aftermath of the loss to the Rockets. "It put us get back in the lab, and we talked about being better defensively. I feeling like rebounding we have been doing a lot better. If we defend and rebound, we like our chances better on the road or at home."
The Mavs just put together two of their best defensive performances of the season. The Celtics shot only 35.9 percent, the lowest field goal percentage allowed by this edition of the Mavs. The Utah Jazz scored only 81 points on Friday night, the fewest by a Mavs foe this season.
Sure, consider the low quality of competition, but it’s still a big step in the right direction for the Mavs.
The offense will flow for the Mavs on most nights. They have to work to be a decent defensive and rebounding team.
The dirty work has a lot to do with the Mavs’ winning streak right now. That’d seem far-fetched if it was in a movie script, but it’s fact for a team that has found its groove and grit.