DALLAS — The contract took longer than expected and it wasn’t for as much as he hoped. Yet all Monta Ellis could talk about this summer was how happy it made him to join the Mavericks and to play for a coach who cared enough to visit him at his offseason home in Houston.
Back in Dallas for Wednesday night’s season opener against the Atlanta Hawks, “Monta Basketball,” as he labeled his game during Media Day one month ago, rocked the house. Give the man credit. He’s always said he can do it all, and in Game 1 of 82, he didn’t disappoint, putting up a hard-charging 32 points, eight assists, four rebounds and a pair of steals in a team-high 37 minutes.
As for Ellis’ seven turnovers? Scoreboard. Dallas dropped the Hawks 118-109. Only the Warriors and Timberwolves (in overtime) put up more points in their openers. So on nights like this you live with seven turnovers.
Ellis drained 11-for-17 shots from the field, knocked down 2-for-3 from behind the arc and made all eight of his free throws. He showed off his handle, shuffled through traffic, dished off half of his assists in the final game-sealing six minutes of the fourth quarter, and four dimes found Dirk Nowitzki, who opened his 16th season with 24 points that included four long balls and five assists.
“He was great,” Nowitzki said of his new teammate. “His all-around game has impressed me more than his scoring. And he can score in bunches, so quick. He’s always attacking.
Ellis’ 32 points were the most by any player making their Mavs debut. Who saw 11-for-17 coming? Welcome to that other side of “Monta Basketball,” the side that furrows coaches’ brows by finishing the preseason in a 14-for-50 funk.
“I just wanted to be more aggressive. I’ve been coming in late with [assistant] coach D.A. [Darrell Armstrong], getting up a lot of shots, trying to get my rhythm,” said Ellis, who ended the preseason in a bit of a funk. “Right now I’m in a good rhythm.”
When coach Rick Carlisle met with Ellis in Houston, they went to the gym. Carlisle didn’t harp on shot selection or mention efficiency. He homed in on his mechanics, and Ellis liked that. It doesn’t mean Carlisle isn’t strapped in for a roller-coaster ride with the 6-foot-3 gunslinger, but he is a believer in an environmental shift aiding helping to make Ellis a more efficient scorer.
“I don’t think he’s ever played with a team quite like this that had bigs that can shoot, things like that,” Carlisle said. “He’s going to be fine.”
The Hawks, with Jeff Teague starting at point and Kyle Korver at shooting guard for the majority of the game, had no one that could stay in front of Ellis. The challenge stiffens Friday night when Dallas plays at Houston (8 ET, League Pass), which can attack Ellis with the larger James Harden and light-on-his-feet Patrick Beverley (assuming both are healthy). On Saturday, Tony Allen and the Memphis Grizzlies (8:30 ET, League Pass) come to town.
But for the opening curtain, Ellis delivered swagger to a club that for two seasons has struggled to keep up offensively. No one is more aware of that fact than Nowitzki, 35, the team’s leading scorer for 13 seasons running.
“He can score with the best of them in this league,” Nowitzki said. “We’re going to need him to score.”