DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks are back in the playoffs.
Monta Ellis scored a season-high tying 37 points Saturday and completely took over the game in the seocnd half as the Mavs upended the Phoenix Suns 101-98 to clinch a playoff spot before a very loud sellout crowd of 20,413 at American Airlines Center.
Ellis had 23 of his point total in the second half. Also for the Mavs, Dirk Nowitzki poured in 21 of his 23 points in the second half.
The Suns had a chance to tie the game and send it into overtime. But Markieff Morris misfired on a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Indeed, the Suns made it interesting afte rEric Bledsoe stole a pass from Ellis and darted in for a layup to get Phoenix within 99-97 of the Mavs with 1:15 left. After a missed jumper by Nowitzki, Bledsoe went to the free throw line with a chance to tie the game.
However, after making the first free throw he missed the second one, leaving the Suns down 99-98 with 52.7 seconds to go.
Ellis actually had a chance to put the Mavs up by three with 20.7 seconds left. But he split a pair of free throws, leaving the Mavs ahead 100-98.
A short time later, Ellis had a chance to put the Mavs up by four points, but again he split a pair of free throws. That opened the door for the potential game-tying shot which Morris missed.
Besides Ellis and Nowitzki, the Mavs got 12 points and 11 rebounds from Brandan Wright, and 10 points form Vince Carter, who became the No. 25th al-time leaidng scorer in NBA history.
Bledsoe paced the Suns with 29 points, Channing Frye scored 21 and Goran Dragic had 13.
Ellis broke an 89-89 tie with a 3-pointer, then stripped Channing Frye and raced in and scored a lef-handed layout over the outstretched arms of Bledsoe. Ellis then fed Devin Harris for a 3-pointer which put the Mavs ahead 97-89 with 3:30 remaining in the game.
The Mavs will finish the regular season Wednesday in Memphis. In addition to hosting the Grizzlies on Monday, the Suns end the regular season Wednesday in Sacramento.
The Suns built a 69-53 lead early in the third period. But, fueled by three 3-pointers from Ellis and two from Nowitzki, the Mavs went on a spirited 17-5 run to inch within 74-73 of the Suns with 1:34 remaining in the third quarter.
Thanks to a late 3-pointer by rookie Shane Larkin, the Mavs led 27-26 after the first period. The Suhns, though, turned up the Heat and outscored Dallas 31-19 in the second quarter and assumed a 57-46 lead at the half.
-- Dwain Price
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