DALLAS (AP) — Monta Ellis came to Dallas because he wanted to pair up with Dirk Nowitzki and see what kind of scoring tag team they could be.
With the Mavericks in danger of making their playoff road much more difficult, they shared their best moment of the season.
Ellis matched his season high with 37 points and Nowitzki scored 21 of his 23 during a second-half rally that carried the Mavericks back to the postseason in a 101-98 victory against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night.
“The reason we won is because we had one of the best players on the planet in Dirk,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “And because Monta Ellis, at the time we needed him most, stepped up and played his biggest game of the year.”
The Mavericks left the Suns and Memphis to battle for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference by winning their home finale, and avoided a possible winner-take-all game at the Grizzlies on the last night of the regular season.
Dallas is back in the playoffs after a 12-year streak ended last season.
“It felt like the playoffs started early this year,” Nowitzki said. “This is where we want to be, on the big stage of the playoffs.”
Eric Bledsoe scored 29 points and Channing Frye had 21 after a hot start for the Suns, who play Memphis on Monday night in a game that figures to go a long way toward deciding the final playoff team in the West.
“We’ve got to stay positive,” Bledsoe said. “You could tell it was a playoff atmosphere. I thought everybody laid it out on the court.”
Ellis and Nowitzki brought the Mavericks back by hitting five 3-pointers between them in less than 4 minutes of the third quarter, erasing most of a 13-point deficit. Then they teamed to get the lead back in the fourth, and Dallas held on in the final minutes.
Nowitzki broke an 89-all tie with a 3-pointer, shouting “Boom!” as he signaled a “3” with both hands. Seconds later, Ellis stole the ball from Frye and hit a tough layup with Bledsoe riding his hip.
After a rare miss from Frye — who made his first five 3-pointers — Devin Harris hit a 3 from the top of the key, holding his arms up and looking to the ceiling in apparent relief after struggling from long range recently.
The Suns were down 99-91, but got back within two when Bledsoe stole a pass by Ellis and coasted in for a layup with 1:15 remaining. It was one of 19 turnovers for the Mavericks, and the Suns had 18 in a fast-paced game with a lot of wild passes.
Bledsoe then missed a free throw that would have tied the game again, and Ellis missed one of two from the line twice in the final 20 seconds to give Phoenix more chances to tie or go ahead.
The Mavericks were finally safely in the playoffs when Markieff Morris was off target on a high-arching 3-point try with 2 seconds left.
Ellis, who was 15 of 23 from the field and made three of four from long range, kept up his hot shooting in the third quarter and Nowitzki joined him after a cold first half as the Mavericks’ top two scorers combined for 44 points after halftime.
“I was just feeling what the defense would do,” said Ellis, who made the playoffs last year with Milwaukee but got swept by Miami in the first round and longed for a change, signing with Dallas as a free agent. “The floor was open for me. Coach just had me attack.”
Dallas’ third-quarter surge started after P.J. Tucker missed a free throw on a potential three-point play that would have given the Suns their biggest lead at 70-56.
Vince Carter made a driving layup and Ellis hit back-to-back shots from the side of the 3-point arc, screaming for emphasis after the second one.
Then it was Nowitzki’s turn to hit two in a row and shout, which he did after getting Dallas within 72-70 from a couple of feet behind the arc late in the third quarter.
The Mavericks took their first lead since midway through the second quarter when Nowitzki hit a layup on a pass from Ellis to go up 88-87 midway through the fourth quarter.
NOTES: Goran Dragic played with a sprained left ankle after missing a game the previous night in San Antonio and finished with 13 points on just 6-of-18 shooting. … Carter passed Adrian Dantley for 25th on the scoring list. He finished with 12 points and now has 23,183 points, six ahead of Dantley.
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