This time, it was enough to deliver a win.
There was a serious threat of the Denver Nuggets completing a season sweep over the Mavs before Ellis’ scoring flurry Friday night. Dallas’ 17-point lead had shrunk to three in the fourth quarter before Dirk Nowitzki hit consecutive turnaround jumpers to give the Mavs a bit of breathing room -- and then passed the baton to his scoring sidekick.
Ellis patiently picked the Nuggets apart while operating the pick-and-roll, exploding for 10 points and an assist during a 16-6 run that sealed the Mavs’ 122-106 victory. The spurt, which lasted only 3 minutes, 37 seconds, consisted of Ellis making a driving layup, a midrange step-back and two 3-pointers, dishing to Brandan Wright for a dunk and initiating ball movement that led to two more easy buckets for the Mavs.
“I was just taking what the defense gives me, being patient,” said Ellis, who finished with 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting and seven assists. “We run a screen-and-roll, come off, see how the defense is playing and make the right plays.”
Ellis made it sound so mundane. His coaches and teammates were much more impressed.
“He really answered the bell down the stretch,” said coach Rick Carlisle, who was concerned about the heavy legs of his veterans late in the game a couple of nights after the Mavs went to overtime. “That was a spectacular run to end the game. We needed every ounce of what he gave us.”
Maybe not every ounce. Ellis exited with 1:38 remaining, receiving a standing ovation after crushing the Nuggets’ comeback hopes.
The Mavs needed just a little bit more from Ellis on Wednesday night, when they lost in overtime to the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he still put on a phenomenal show to give Dallas a chance to play five extra minutes.
In that game, Ellis scored 12 points in the final 3:49 as Dallas erased a deficit that was as big as 12 points midway through the third quarter. That Ellis explosion consisted of an and-1 drive and three 3-pointers.
“When we need him, when he gets rolling, he gets us going and gets himself going in the fourth,” said Vince Carter, who scored 13 points against the Nuggets despite dislocating his right pinky finger early in the game. “It’s great.”
At this point, it’s pretty much expected. Ellis has been at his best in fourth quarters this season, averaging more points (5.2) and shooting higher percentages (48.4 percent from the floor and 38.6 percent from 3-point range) than in any other frame.
After his big finishes the past two games, Ellis has put up double-figure point totals in the fourth quarter 10 times during his 70-game stint with the Mavs.
There’s no doubt that Ellis has emerged as a bona fide co-closer alongside Nowitzki, with occasional cameos from Devin Harris in that role.
“He’s got the confidence to do it,” said Nowitzki, who scored 21 points against Denver, exiting for what he expected to be a quick breather with 3:57 remaining and getting the luxury of watching from the bench as Ellis slammed the door. “Confidence in this league is like 80 percent. There’s obviously some skill involved, but if you have that confidence you can do it and you do it a couple of times, then you’re there. You’ve arrived.
“He’s been great all season for us when we do give him the ball at attacking and making stuff happen. He’s shooting the 3-ball really well lately. If he’s in a rhythm shooting like that, he’s tough to guard because he comes off the screen-and-rolls so quick. If they go under and he knocks those shots in, he’s tough to guard.”
Ellis was impossible to guard down the stretch against Denver, turning a Mavs meltdown alert into a comfortable win. Closing performances don’t get much more convincing.