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.
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.
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.