Carter passed Payton with an and-1 putback late in the first quarter, but the shot that Mavs fans will be buzzing about until for the next 36 hours or so was his game-winning 3-pointer with 6.5 seconds remaining. With Hornets 7-footer Jason Smith switched onto him, Carter jab-stepped to create some space and fired from the right wing, swishing his fifth 3-pointer of the night to cap his 22-point performance.
“I’ve never been afraid to take the big shot,” Carter told reporters. “I’m not afraid of the consequences, good or bad. I just throw all that stuff out the window. I’ve been in the position before.”
Carter, who has 21,832 career points, had been in that position plenty of times during his days as an eight-time All-Star. But he’d never been in the sixth man role on a regular basis until this season.
The 36-year-old Carter has thrived as a reserve, serving as an example of unselfishness while averaging 13.2 points and playing surprisingly gritty, effective defense. He’ll still occasionally throw down a “Half Man, Half Amazing” kind of highlight dunk, but Carter is most dangerous behind the 3-point arc these days, shooting 41.4 percent from long distance this season after going 19-of-30 over the last four games.
He’s performed like a Sixth Man of the Year candidate for the last month and a half, averaging 15.8 points and putting up a plus-minus of +191 while the Mavs have won 11 of 17 games to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
“The way Vince has re-invented himself with us as an off-the-bench instant offense, playmaker, defender, all-around guy I think validates him as a Hall of Fame candidate,” coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. “He’s an eight-time All-Star. Guys that have the kind of longevity that he’s had and can adjust their game to help a team win are guys that get in.
“I think he’ll get in anyway. I don’t know of an eight-time All-Star that didn’t make the Hall of Fame, but what he’s doing right now validates it.”
A few more notes from the Mavs’ must-win comeback Friday night:
1. Dirk’s work: Believe it or not, this marked the first time all season that the Mavs won a game in which Dirk Nowitzki scored 20-plus points.
It’s an awfully small sample size after Nowitzki missed the first 27 games following arthroscopic knee surgery and has struggled to regain his Hall of Fame form, but the Mavs were 0-4 when their $20 million man put up at least 20 points.
That strange streak ended with the Mavs’ last-minute rally against the Hornets. Nowitzki scored 25 points – one shy of his season high – on 10-of-17 shooting.
There’s plenty of reason to believe that Nowitzki can be a 20-ppg scorer the rest of the season. He’s averaging 19.5 points on 52.8 percent shooting over the last four games despite an off night in Wednesday’s win over Orlando.
2. Block party: The Mavs set a franchise record with 17 blocks against the Hornets, with rookie center Bernard James swatting seven shots in only 15 minutes.
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound James is the Mavs’ best rim protector, averaging 4.2 blocks per 48 minutes.
“That’s one of the things I can do really well,” said James, a second-round pick who also had four points on 2-of-2 shooting and six rebounds against the Hornets. “Tonight, I just tried to protect the rim and help out as much as I could. A couple of times, I got caught helping too much. I’m still kind of figuring things out.”
3. Phenomenal finish: The Mavs have lost plenty of heartbreakers this season, but this marked the first time they won a game that they trailed in the final minute.
Dallas erased a four-point deficit in the final 42 seconds with back-to-back 3s by Mike James and Carter. They also held the Hornets scoreless in the final 55 seconds, with O.J. Mayo essentially sealing the win by coming up with a loose ball and tossing it off Eric Gordon’s leg and out of bounds.
“It was as big as it gets,” Carlisle said. “Down four with a minute to go, the great thing was no one ever wavered or lost belief. The guys kept battling.”