By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
DALLAS — Two nights after Monta Ellis outscored the Minnesota Timberwolves 12-2 down the stretch to get his team to overtime, if ultimately not the victory, he crushed the Denver Nuggets on Friday night with a furious flurry of dazzling drives, pinpoint dishes and even 3-point buckets.
The Dallas Mavericks are getting the full Monta in fourth quarters, a significant weapon to have next to one of the great all-time closers in Dirk Nowitzki. Ellis poured in 14 fourth-quarter points against the Nuggets on 6-for-6 shooting. He dropped 10 points in the final 6:29 after Denver had quickly shaved Dallas’ 11-point lead to 99-96. Ellis finished with 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting, plus seven assists and four rebounds, and the Mavs won 122-106.
“I was just taking what the defense gives me, being patient,” Ellis said. “We run a screen-and-roll, come off, see how the defense is playing and make the right plays.”
Ellis has been making the right plays most of the season. He’s played in all 70 games, shaking off a hamstring strain earlier in the season and illness more recently to stay on the floor as the Mavs joust with Memphis and Phoenix for the final two playoff spots.
The three-year, $25 million contract Ellis signed last summer is looking like one of the great bargains of this season. He’s averaging 18.8 points, 5.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds. Ellis, who leads all players in drives to the basket by a fairly wide margin, is getting his points in much more economical fashion than in the past with Golden State and Milwaukee. He’s shooting 45.7 percent overall, which would go down as his highest mark since the 2007-08 season when he shot 53.1 percent with the Warriors. And he’s averaging 15.1 shot attempts a game, which stands to be his lowest mark since that 07-08 season.
The clutch factor has been a bonus. After his latest fireworks against the Wolves and Nuggets, Ellis has notched double-figure point totals in the fourth quarter 10 times in 70 games this season. His shooting percentages soar in the final period to 48.4 percent overall and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc — he’s shooting just 33.1 percent from deep overall. His percentages, as well as his 5.2-point scoring average in the fourth quarter are his highest among all quarters.
“He’s got the confidence to do it,” Nowitzki said of Ellis’ ability to close out games with scoring binges. “Confidence in this league is like 80 percent. There’s obviously some skill involved, but if you have that confidence you can do it and you do it a couple of times, then you’re there. You’ve arrived.
“He’s been great all season for us when we do give him the ball at attacking and making stuff happen. He’s shooting the 3-ball really well lately. If he’s in a rhythm shooting like that, he’s tough to guard because he comes off the screen-and-rolls so quick. If they go under and he knocks those shots in, he’s tough to guard.”
Coming off Wednesday’s disappointing overtime loss to Minnesota in which Nowitzki missed a potential game-winner in the final seconds and played 39 minutes, Dallas needed Ellis’ extra burst. Nowitzki asked out for a quick breather with 3:57 to go with Dallas up 109-99. The 35-year-old power forward wouldn’t need to return. Ellis made sure of that with an assist to Brandan Wright for a dunk before nailing a step-back jumper followed by a pair of 3-pointers.
“He really answered the bell down the stretch,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “That was a spectacular run to end the game. We needed every ounce of what he gave us.”