Monday, February 13, 2012 Updated: February 14, 7:52 AM ET
Caron Butler has mixed return to Dallas
By Rob Mahoney Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com
This was Caron Butler's night.
It was his grand return to a city he once called home, the setting for a one-man ring ceremony that saw Butler finally awarded his championship spoils, and a chance to play in front of familiar fans who would cheer him without an ounce of malice or remorse.
Clippers guard Caron Butler had an emotional return to Dallas receiving his NBA championship ring, then couldn't close out his former team in the end.
It was Butler's chance to take center stage, and he did; Butler scored nine of the Los Angeles Clippers' 19 first-quarter points en route to a season-high (and game-high) 23. It was his chance to be both a rock for his current team and an icon for his former team, as Butler's steady play for teams past and present collided. And with three seconds remaining and the game hanging in the balance, it was Butler's chance to save the day, after a defensive scramble gave the Clippers one last chance to salvage a disappointing fourth quarter.
Chris Paul made a crucial steal with just seconds remaining, and elected to take advantage of the on-court chaos resulting from an uncharacteristic Mavericks turnover. He kicked the ball to Butler -- who had made five of his nine attempts from 3-point range -- on the right wing, and let the game's narrative write itself.
This was Caron Butler's night.
And if a certain basketball had any knowledge of that fact or the night's significance, it would have found the bottom of the net and allowed Butler to leave town a conquering hero. But thanks to an errant shot, a classic storyline took an unfortunate turn and denied Butler what could have been his.
"I thought it would only be right for him to make that shot," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said.
Considering the video tribute, ring ceremony and season-high performance that served as the shot's preamble, it would have been fitting. But Butler and the Clippers will have to settle with knowing that they made a close game out of what could have been a relatively uncontested loss, and that they had a chance to win on a quality attempt from an open shooter.
"When you're in that situation, you're not exactly sure how much time [is left]," Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Sometimes you can call timeout, but when you've got numbers on the break and Chris [Paul] has the ball, good things happen. We got a good look."
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Butler, for his part, seemed to agree.
"I got my feet up under me," Butler said. "Followed through. It was a routine shot. And it would have been the dagger that we needed, but it fell a little short."
Short though that single shot attempt may have been, Butler's offensive success throughout the game was a vital component of the Clippers' competitive efforts. Such may often be the case for a Los Angeles team without Chauncey Billups; although additional pressure to score and create offense would seem to fall on the shoulders of Randy Foye (who replaced Billups in the starting lineup) in addition to team anchors Paul and Blake Griffin, Butler is more than capable of filling some of the scoring void. He was already expected to space the floor and put up points on a consistent basis for a fully healthy Clippers team, but those responsibilities have become the bare minimum for his role in Billups' absence.
Butler will be expected to do more, because, as he showcased in Monday night's game, he can do more. He found space in the weak-side corner and bailed out his double-covered teammates. He played credible defense. He worked off the dribble and drove to the basket. He scored efficiently, both at the free throw line and beyond the 3-point arc. He was consistently aggressive with the ball in his hands and led the Clippers in scoring throughout.
Butler overcame the night's context, and capitalized on a powerful moment with possibly his best game of the season. It was Butler's night -- not due to an act of fate or some pre-written narrative, but because he worked hard, stayed focused and made it so.