DALLAS — As if waiting eight months wasn’t long enough, Shane Larkin had to wait a little bit longer. The Mavericks’ first-round pick fractured his right ankle on July 12 and missed the season’s first 10 games, but finally stepped off the bench late in the first quarter for his first game action since Miami’s loss to Marquette in the NCAA Tournament all the way back on March 28.
As fortune would have it, the man Larkin was sent to replace–Monta Ellis–missed his second free throw and Larkin had to sit beneath the scorers’ table for 40 more seconds before entering the game to one of the loudest cheers of the night from the sellout crowd of 19,790 at the American Airlines Center during Dallas’ 97-94 win over Philadelphia.
“I was like, ‘Please make this free throw,'” Larkin said. “Sitting over there actually made me more nervous. I couldn’t just walk on the court, I had to just sit there and I felt like all the eyes in the gym were just staring at me sitting right there like, ‘See what he’s about to do.'”
Once he got his opportunity, he made his debut a positive one, even if it was a bit quiet. He played just 8:35, but managed to swipe three steals and dish out three assists. His only field goal on three attempts came off a jump ball that the 76ers had won, but he beat the 76ers to the ball and earned an easy layup.
“He looked really fast out there, and obviously, that’s what we need, some quickness backing up Jose,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who logged his 376th double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. “He looked good. I thought he tried to play within himself, didn’t do anything he can’t do and used his quickness some, got some quick steals right when he came in. He’s just got to keep working.”
Larkin had returned to practice on Nov. 4, and was told on Sunday that he had a chance to make his debut on Monday. He didn’t know for sure until he saw his locker on Monday, though. Ellis, who led the Mavs with 24 points, said he didn’t know Monday would be Larkin’s debut until he arrived at the arena. Larkin’s immediate family was in the stands.
“I thought he did very well considering it was his first live action in a real game,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s been doing really hard workouts with two or three other guys and we’ve simulated game situations, tempo as best we could, but it’s not quite the same.”
The Mavericks won despite turning the ball over 20 times, but Larkin managed to keep his stat line clear of a turnover in his debut.
“I was making a conscious effort not to turn it over tonight,” Larkin said. “That was one of the things we were struggling on, so I didn’t want to turn it over my first game, wanted to show Coach he could trust me.”
It didn’t take long for Larkin to make an impact. He intercepted a pass on his first defensive possession, and was surprised when he picked up a foul call on Evan Turner after driving baseline in the final minute of the first quarter.
“He did good,” forward Shawn Marion said. “I liked it. He gives us another weapon.”
Vince Carter, who made his NBA debut in 1998 when Larkin was six years old, said he’s played golf with Larkin’s dad, former Cincinnati Reds shortstop, and remembered Shane growing up. Monday served as yet another reminder of how quickly time can go by. His message before the game was simple: Just play.
“Just to get out there was an amazing experience. I was out there smiling the whole time,” Larkin said, “living my dream.”