The outcome no longer in doubt Monday night, Doc Rivers grabbed the officials’ attention, then the crowd’s.
Rivers called a timeout with 9.4 seconds to play in a 121-112 Clippers victory over the Dallas Mavericks. He then walked to midcourt, grabbed the public address announcer’s microphone and exhorted a sellout Staples Center crowd wondering what was happening to stand and acknowledge Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki in what could be the seventh-leading scorer in NBA history’s final appearance in the arena against the Clippers.
“Let’s go!” Rivers shouted, an edge in his otherwise raspy voice. “Let’s go!”
Standing inside the paint in front of the Mavericks bench, Nowitzki saluted Rivers, then flashed a thumbs up. Play resumed, the crowd stayed standing as the clock ran out and the Clippers (34-28) secured a crucial victory in a crucial stretch that put them alone in seventh place in the Western Conference standings.
Making his way through waves of well-wishers at the end was Nowitzki, who has yet to declare whether he will return for a 22nd NBA season. Eventually he reached Rivers, and they hugged.
“One of the greatest things I’ve ever seen,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle called the gesture, and the cheers that resulted from it were the loudest of the night.
But not far behind, in terms of decibels, was the noise generated by every dunk, block and biceps flex by Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell.
Harrell scored a career-high 32 points, making 14 of 17 shots to go with five rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Another reserve, Lou Williams, added 21 points and 10 assists to help the Clippers outscore Dallas (26-34) by six points in the fourth quarter. The Clippers are 16-0 at home when leading after three quarters.
“I thought he dominated his position,” Williams said of Harrell. “One of those games where we needed him and I thought he came out and played tremendous for us.”
Nowitzki scored 12 points in 26 minutes.
Danilo Gallinari scored 20 points for the Clippers and Patrick Beverley had 17 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, but the bulk of the Clippers’ success was generated by backups. JaMychal Green, acquired two weeks ago in a trade from the Memphis Grizzlies that offloaded the Clippers’ best defender, Avery Bradley, assumed Bradley’s role of guarding an opponent’s best player on several occasions and found success against Luka Doncic, the odds-on favorite to win rookie-of-the-year honors. Doncic finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists but also had nine turnovers.
The Clippers most often trapped Doncic but keeping him double-covered at all times was, of course, an impossible task. Left alone covering Doncic, Green largely prospered where so many defenders have become highlight-reel fodder, the latest victims of the 19-year-old’s step-back three-pointers and crossovers.
Rivers called the defense of the 6-foot-9 Green, who also scored 11 points, “phenomenal.”
“The dumbest thing we did was in the beginning of the third after all the trapping, we pulled it off for a second because we thought we would surprise [Doncic],” Rivers said. “He surprised us by killing us.
“He is so good. The whole thing for us is to make him work to wear him down. I thought that kind of worked a little bit.”
During one sequence in the first half, Doncic tried at least five different moves to create separation from Green while dribbling from the top of the arc into the short corner near Dallas’ bench, only to throw up a halfhearted shot that missed.
“I know he’s a great player, been breaking down a lot of players and scoring and I just wanted to be the one that was different,” Green said. “My pride kicked in. I had pride and I didn’t want to get beat.”
As much as Monday showcased the young players both organizations hope will become longtime stars, it was also an appreciation of Nowitzki.
The crowd applauded Nowitzki’s pregame introduction at a volume level that rivaled any Clipper and cheers began as soon as the ball left the fingertips of his right hand. He missed his first three shots but his fourth swished through the net and brought full-throated approval from the crowd.
The Clippers didn’t treat Nowitzki with such reverence. They attacked him early in the first quarter on pick-and-rolls with center Ivica Zubac rumbling toward the basket for the first two buckets. Zubac has a broken bone on his left middle finger and hyperextended tendons in his right hand but did not wear protective tape on either hand, as he did Sunday in Denver.
Nowitzki was a familiar face in a matchup of reshuffled rosters.