Thursday in Phoenix was 'Satisfaction Guaranteed Night,' in a sense, the Suns treating the visiting Mavs as if they were a homecoming-game creampuff. Mavs 97, Suns 94 marked the first time since March 1998 that a Dallas-Phoenix game didn't feature either Dirk or Nash. But no Nowitzki was no reason to say 'yes' to being a creampuff.
It was just six seasons ago when the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns battled for a spot in the NBA Finals. On Thursday night in Phoenix, they battled just to stay relevant in the Western Conference. On this night of runs, Dallas outlasted the Suns to hold on for a 97-94 victory.
"It was a huge win for us,'' Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "We played one of our strongest willed games of the year. ... It was a war of attrition out there."
Both former conference powers are without their iconic superstars. Phoenix lost Nash to the Lakers, while Dallas lost Nowitzki to a balky knee, and both teams trot out lineups full of new faces. (Two Mavs, Shawn Marion with a groin and Chris Kaman with an ankle, exited the game. Dallas hopes those injuries are minor. Marion said his is not a worry. X-rays on Kaman's ankle were negative but he indicated he's not sure of his status.)
The difference, as has been so many times this season, is that Dallas possessed the best player on the court in O.J. Mayo, who finished with a game-high 23 points, five rebounds and five assists.
He hit the signature shot of his young Mavs career with 35 seconds left. With the entire arena knowing it was going to him, Mayo splashed a cold-blooded jumper from the left elbow to give Dallas a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. He was also a now customary three-of-five from beyond the arc.
"I just wanted to get the ball in an isolated situation,'' said Mayo, and he's a smart fella. Coming into the night he ranked second in the NBA at 1.16 points per possession on isolations, shooting 52.9 percent in those situations.
Interestingly, it was also Mayo who got beat as Goran Dragic drove past him for a game-tying layup. Ultimately, Dragic failed to convert his attempt and Dallas held on for the win.
In a matchup of the final two teams that Mayo ultimately decided between in free agency, Dallas is certainly thankful that Mayo elected to become a Maverick.
Thursday night also saw a strong effort from Brandan Wright, who scored 16 big points off the bench, hitting eight of his 12 shots and pulling down four rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
"He's a good player, he responded tremendously well,'' said Carlisle of B-Wright, who in the previous 10 games had played a total of just 47 minutes. "We need him. We need everybody.''
With the addition of Derek Fisher, the focus will be on the Dallas point guard position for some time. Here, the former starter Darren Collison was among the many "everybodies'' who contributes. DC actually saw more time than Fisher, gaining five more minutes than the recent addition. More importantly, Collison was on the court in the waning minutes of a close game, gaining valuable Winning Time experience. We say the potential impact of that experience on his psyche can not be understated coming so close on the heels of his demotion to the bench.
Collison ended his night with 16 points, four rebounds and two assists. He also attempted a game-high 12 free-throw attempts, making 10. (The Mavs were 10-of-10 from the line in the final six minutes.) Fisher, for his part, scored only two points, with three rebounds, three assists but also three turnovers.
Collison's development will remain a primary objective while Nowitzki sits. “I don't think middle of December is happening now, to be honest" are Dirk words that seem to push his return to Christmas or maybe beyond.
This stuff comes with no guarantees ... as the good people of Phoenix now know with the oddity of the Phoenix marketing department deciding to promote a "money-back Satisfaction Guarantee Night.'' That's right: In a way, The Suns picked the Mavs as their "guarantee game,'' as their homecoming cream puff. This is how Notre Dame ends up playing Emporia State School for Lady Dentists -- it's homecoming night! Now, it was really about the Suns guaranteeing their fans a “good time,’’ not a win.
And maybe it was fun, for a while, as Phoenix led early 13-3, was hit by a pair of massive Dallas comebacks in the second and third quarters, and then watched as the Mavs pushed their way to a 9-10 record.