DALLAS, Texas (AP) – Monta Ellis had just missed a jumper that could have lifted Dallas out of a matchup with top-seeded San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs.
His reaction to playing a team the Mavericks haven’t beaten in more than two years was typical of the confident guard: simple, understated, defiant.
“The standings is 0-0,” Ellis said after Wednesday night’s 106-105 overtime loss at Memphis with the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference on the line.
Ellis’ first season in Dallas has been all about shrugging off the skeptics.
His offensive efficiency was in steady decline, so he had his best shooting season since he was a 25-point scorer for Golden State. He couldn’t play nice with others, so he settled for being Dirk Nowitzki’s sidekick except for games that he simply took over in the fourth quarter.
He was coming off a joyless playoff season in Milwaukee, so he picked a franchise and coach he thought would make him happy again.
Even if Ellis goes down in a first-round sweep by the Spurs the same way he did with the Bucks against Miami a year ago, he likes what he sees in his makeover as he wraps up his ninth season and gets ready for the playoff opener Sunday in San Antonio.
“I had to grow up and accept some of the things that was going on around me that I can control, which is my attitude,” Ellis said. “Be more positive and put myself around positive people. Being around this organization and really this group of guys got me back into love with basketball.”
Ellis had his best moment late in the first year of the three-year deal he signed last summer worth between $25 and $30 million.
The Mavericks were about to squander a chance to wrap up their playoff spot at home against Phoenix when he sparked a rally from a double-digit deficit with 3-point shooting that got Nowitzki going, too. He finished with a season-high 37 points.
Ellis almost did it again in the finale against the Grizzlies, scoring 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a 3 that forced the extra period.
Ellis was coach Rick Carlisle’s selection with Dallas trailing by a point on the final inbounds play, coming off a pick and missing a buzzer-beating jumper that would have sent the Mavericks to Oklahoma City instead.
“He’s a big part of why we’re back in the playoffs,” said Nowitzki, who was Dallas’ leading scorer for the 14th consecutive season when it looked early in the year like Ellis might take over that role, and still might next season. “He hasn’t missed a game. He hasn’t missed a practice. We need him to play well if we want to advance in the playoffs.”
Ellis talked before the season about how he and Carlisle hit it off from the start. And Ellis didn’t do anything to change that dynamic under a demanding boss.
Even though Ellis bristles at the notion that this season was any different in terms of how hard he was coached on shot selection, defense or conditioning, his coach says he was — and praises the way he reacted to it.
“His presence on the roster this year was I think the biggest lift that we got with all the acquisitions that we had, and we had a lot of good ones,” said Carlisle, who had a completely new backcourt with Jose Calderon and Devin Harris signing as free agents as well. “Monta’s been a guy that’s put us a cut above where we were last year.”
Ellis played all 82 games for the second straight season, fighting through several injuries. He had the excuse of the looming All-Star break after straining his right hamstring in February, but instead made a three-game trip that ended with his 41-minute night in a win at Indiana, the East’s top seed.
“With me,” said Ellis, “if I can walk, I can play.”
Now he’s looking for his first playoff win as a starter since 2007 — against the Mavericks.
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