In supporting role, Mavs' Ellis stars

— -- DALLAS -- It was an innocent question, really, about Monta Ellis finding his niche on the Dallas Mavericks while earning the trust of Dirk Nowitzki, Rick Carlisle and Mark Cuban.

Ellis didn't even hear the end of the question before interrupting.

"This is still Dirk's team," he said emphatically.

No doubt.

But in the fourth quarter Friday night at American Airlines Center, it was Ellis -- not Nowitzki -- with the ball in his hands at the game's crucial moments. And it was Ellis relentlessly attacking the basket.

And it was Ellis with a game-high 29 points, tying his playoff career high, as the Mavs forced Game 7 in this Western Conference quarterfinal series.

Dallas 113, San Antonio 111.

"My teammates told me to be aggressive throughout the game," Ellis said. "They told me we were going to keep it close and the fourth quarter was mine. Mark Cuban told me the same thing. Coach Carlisle and my team believed in me. All I had to do is respond."

Ellis has now scored 20 points in each of the past five games of this series. He made 4 of 7 shots and each of his three free throws in Friday's fourth quarter.

So we're blessed with one more game in this wonderful series -- five games decided in the fourth quarter -- between the eighth-seeded Mavs and the top-seeded Spurs, one that features a collection of future Hall of Fame players in Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and two of the game's best coaches in Carlisle and Gregg Popovich.

But it was Ellis, the dude who signed a below-market-value deal worth $24 million over three years in the offseason, who was the central figure as the Mavs rallied from an 81-76 deficit entering the fourth quarter.

Just so you know, the Spurs are now 55-2 this season when they lead after three quarters. Their last blown fourth-quarter lead occurred Jan. 17 against Portland.

For the third time in this series, Ellis scored at least 10 points in the fourth quarter. He's averaging 21.8 in the series while shooting 42.2 percent from the field (49-of-116) and 35.7 (10-of-28) of his 3-point attempts.

Ellis hadn't scored in Friday's fourth quarter until he came off a screen and drilled a 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 57 seconds left that gave the Mavs a 94-92 lead, their first of the frame.

A driving layup and subsequent free throw by Ellis extended the Mavs' lead to 100-94 with 3:22 left. Another jumper by Ellis pushed the lead to 102-94 with 2:59 to play.

That five-minute stretch is the beauty of Ellis' game. He's a true scorer -- he has a career average of 19.4 -- who can amass points quickly because of his ability to maneuver into the lane with ease.

When Ellis is hitting the midrange jumper, which he did in the fourth quarter, he becomes unstoppable on the pick-and-roll. Go under the screen and Ellis hits the jumper. Fight through the screen and he drives to the basket.

Ellis struggled with his jumper in the first half, which made it difficult for him to get to the basket and made him angry with his own performance at intermission despite the Mavs' six-point lead.

"I had a lot of careless turnovers. I don't think I was aggressive enough. I don't think I put enough pressure on the defense," he said. "That's why there are two halves to a game.

"I left that half in the locker room. I wanted to come out and be more aggressive. I wanted to be calm, keep my composure and ride the storm. My teammates did a great job of lifting me up and keeping me in spirit."

Carlisle said he spoke to Ellis at halftime and implored him to keep attacking the basket, because that's when the Mavs are at their best offensively.

Ellis listened, and now he's getting an opportunity to play in a Game 7. It should be fun.

And you should expect Ellis to perform the way he's played each of the past five games. He must, if the Mavs are going to win.

Finally, Nowitzki has another player capable of dominating. It makes a difference because it takes some pressure off the 35-year-old superstar.

No longer must he do everything every game for the Mavs to win.

This remains Dirk's team. And he's still the Mavs' best player, but Ellis is a capable sidekick.

No one is happier than Dirk.