Experience guides Mavs past Cavs
The MVP candidate watched from the bench, his bandaged right elbow hidden underneath a sport coat, as his teammates beat an elite team.
The Mavs' 102-95 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers was an impressive display of team basketball by a bunch of seasoned veterans. Six Dallas players scored in double figures, led by fill-in starting power forward Tim Thomas' 22 points. The Mavs dished out 25 assists and committed only six turnovers, with Jason Kidd (11 assists, one turnover) beautifully orchestrating the offense. Shawn Marion, Josh Howard and Kidd took turns defending LeBron James, who appeared to be a mere mortal while scoring only two of his 25 points in the fourth quarter as the Cavs' five-game winning streak was snapped.
"It is a huge win," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "Anytime you can win without a guy like Dirk, it just says a lot about the group of guys and the team."
Nowitzki, whose finesse style belies his toughness, wanted to play two days after a couple of Rockets forward Carl Landry's teeth ended up embedded in his elbow. But he knew when he tried to shoot some jumpers hours before tip-off that it wasn't going to happen.
"It's just really, really stiff and it's sore," said Nowitzki, who hopes to play Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers. "I can't really bend it, can't really extend it. It hurts to touch, so probably trying to box somebody out or making contact is pretty impossible at this point. We just decided against it."
"It was a great decision. We got the win and I got a little rest."
Thomas got his first opportunity to start for the Mavericks and took advantage of it.
It's not as if Thomas felt that he had to replace Nowitzki's normal production. Thomas said he just wanted to be aggressive, a mission he accomplished while hitting seven of 14 shots from the floor and six of seven from the free throw line.
Thomas, a 12-year veteran, knew when he signed with the Mavericks for the veteran's minimum that his playing time would be sporadic. He's been in and out of the rotation since missing the first 11 games while rehabbing from knee surgery.
"The best compliment I can give a guy like that is to say he's a pro," Carlisle said. "When you lose a guy like Dirk who is such a great shooter, it is a real blessing to have a guy like Tim ready to go, the way he stepped in and not only played but played well."
The final six minutes were a fitting end to the ultimate team win for the Mavs.
After Cleveland went on a mini-run to trim the Mavs' lead to one, Dallas responded with a 12-4 run to keep the Cavs at bay. All five Dallas players on the floor -- Erick Dampier, Thomas, Marion, Jason Terry and Kidd -- had at least a decade of NBA experience. All five scored during the win-sealing stretch. The four field goals during the run were all assisted, three on feeds from Kidd, who also hit a 3-pointer when Marion found him wide open on the wing.
"When you go out there and play hard on the defensive end and you share the ball offensively, great things happen. Always," said Marion, who had 12 points and eight rebounds. "It's a guarantee. There's no doubt. If you go down the history of the NBA, teams that play hard on defense and share the ball are hard to beat."
That's true with or without their best player.