Winning 3 never far from his mind

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None of us knew it, but Vince Carter had been holding on to the corner jumper he missed in Game 7 of 2001 Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers for 4,724 days.

The missed jumper didn't consume Carter, but he has worked on that particular shot every practice since then -- always waiting and hoping for redemption.

Sure, Carter has achieved virtually every individual accolade the NBA has to offer, but that one shot has bothered him more than any other because it sent Philly to the NBA Finals, while his Toronto Raptors went home.

That moment has been vanquished.

Forever.

Carter swished a 3-pointer from the left corner as time expired, lifting the Dallas Mavericks to a victory at American Airlines Center on Saturday afternoon every bit as improbable as their 2-1 series lead over the San Antonio Spurs in this best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal.

Dallas 109, San Antonio 108.

"To be honest, I thought about that as we were coming out of timeout," Carter said of the missed shot in 2001. "'Hey, let's make this one.' In my mind I was ready for it. I had already made the shot before the play happened if I got the ball."

Perhaps the only person other than Vince, of course, who wasn't surprised he made the winner was Dallas coach Rick Carlisle.

After all, he predicted it in the Mavs' huddle immediately after the Spurs had taken a 108-106 lead on Manu Ginobili's short bank shot with 1.7 seconds left.

Carlisle correctly figured the Spurs would deny Ellis, the play's first option, so he told Carter to be ready to catch the ball and hit the shot.

"OK, no problem," Carter told the coach.

As he walked onto the court, Carter had a flashback to the potential game winner he missed against Philadelphia on May 20, 2001, as he often does in the moments when he's pondering what might have been.

On the inbounds play, Dallas guard Jose Calderon passed the ball to Carter in the left corner. As soon as he caught it, Carter saw Ginobili leaping high to alter the shot.

So he waited -- yes, Carter had the patience to let Ginobili go by -- even though less than a second remained in the game. Carter remembered to stay on his toes, ensuring his heels didn't land out of bounds.

Then he flicked a high, arching shot toward the basket as he faded into the court side seats where Dallas' beautiful people sat with their Christian Louboutin Red Bottom shoes and their Bogosse shirts.

Nothing but net. Then pandemonium.

Carter, a scowl on his face, savored the moment. As he stalked out of the corner, Dirk Nowitzki sprinted toward him and delivered a physical chest bump before wrapping his arm around his neck.

There's no telling what Dirk was screaming to Carter as the two veterans shared an unforgettable moment. Seconds later, the rest of the Mavs joined them.

"Vince really deserves it. He's been so good for us, and he's about so many of the right things," Carlisle said. "You always hope a guy like that can have a moment like this in a big playoff game."

Carlisle is talking about Carter's approach to the game.

Remember, we're talking about the man who used to be called Vinsanity when he wasn't being described as half-man, half-amazing. He's a dude who played a couple of feet above the rim and posterized enough opponents to decorate a teenager's room.

Carter averaged more than 20 points for 10 straight seasons, and he is this generation's human highlight film.

Now he's a role player, the sixth man on a No. 8 seed.

Oh, Carter still has occasional moments when he revs it up and has a Vinsanity flashback, but he used to have three or four a game.

"I just want to win and do for the team in practice or locker room," Carter said. "I'll yell or talk or do whatever I need to do to win.

"It's a great feeling when a coach sees that. And it's important to the team, and he appreciates that."

Carter averaged 11.9 points this season. He had scored eight points in the first 47:58 against San Antonio.

But Carter has retained a superstar's mindset. He has no fear of winning time. He wants the ball with an opportunity to win it or lose it.

Not everyone does.

"I don't mind the pressure shots. I don't mind taking the game-winning shots. I don't mind missing them and dealing with it," Carter said. "Having that mentality helps me, maybe not everyone else.

"I can take the shot with confidence, and I can live with it. Sometimes you miss a big shot -- 2001 -- and you hold on to for a while until you get the opportunity again. I'm just glad it worked out this time years later."

Twelve years, 11 months and six days to be exact.

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