Maybe the smile betrayed him. Maybe the smile was speaking the truth for a guy who's normally pleasant, but more stoic than chirpy.
"I've been playing basketball too long to be nervous," Monta Ellis said when asked if playing against his former team held special meaning for him after the Pacers' 107-81 victory over Dallas.
"We need W's; it's nothing personal," he said when asked again.
Photo Gallery: Pacers Win Big Over The Mavs »
Told then that Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and owner Mark Cuban had said before the game they were expecting a big game out of Ellis, who played the previous two seasons in Dallas, he paused. For about five seconds. And failed to contain his smile.
"They know how I am," he said, finally. "They know I'm a competitor. At the end of the day it doesn't matter. I treat all the games the same. And they know that."
Maybe so. But a couple of Ellis' teammates didn't believe it was just a routine, one-of-82 game for him, not after watching him miss all eight of his shots in the first half and then score all 19 of his points in the second in the Pacers' win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday.
C.J. Miles, who scored a game-high 20 points off the bench, grew up and attended high school in Dallas. It's special for him, too.
"Everybody (gets up for their former team)," said Miles, who played for Utah and Cleveland before signing with the Pacers. "We all knew that. You might not want to talk about it, but it definitely feels good to beat your old team. It's hometown for me, so I always think about it, too. I never played (for the Mavs), but it's bragging rights when I go back to the barber shop, or see my boys or go around town. I know they get to watch this game for sure, because it's going to be on TV in the city. So it's always fun for me."
Ian Mahinmi, who grabbed 10 rebounds in 22 minutes, played two seasons for the Mavericks, most recently in 2011-12. The thrill has worn off a bit for him, but he remembers how it used to be.
"It always means something the first time you play against your former team," he said. "It's a little extra motivation. You want to do good. Most importantly you want to win. If you have a good game, that's the cherry on top.
"Today was a little bit for me and a little bit for him."
Pacers coach Frank Vogel puts emphasis on games when a player is facing his former team for the first time, making it a win-one-for-the-Gipper thing. He did it for Jordan Hill when they played the Lakers in Los Angeles earlier this season, and did it for Chase Budinger and Glenn Robinson III when they played Minnesota. He did it for Ellis, too.
The NBA season is long, so any excuse to find added motivation for a game is welcomed.
"We definitely knew Monta wanted to beat his old team," Miles said. "And we try to do that (for everyone). I don't know how to say it without being profane."
Nervous or not, Ellis struggled at the start of the game. He missed all seven shots in the first quarter, when he played all but the final 23.8 seconds, and missed his only shot of the second quarter, when he played six minutes.
Vogel ran a play for him to start the second half to try to get him going, setting him up for a 20-footer off a pick, but he missed that, too. Gradually, though, Ellis got it going within the flow of the offense. He hit an 18-footer from in front of the Dallas bench with 9:13 left, then turned and looked at his hecklers. He followed that by stripping the ball from Dirk Nowitzki 30 feet from the basket and converting a breakaway dunk. He followed that by crossing over Deron Williams in transition and finger rolling a layup to complete an 8-2 start to the half and forcing Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle to call timeout.
"It was just a matter of time," Vogel said
Ellis added seven more points in the quarter, which the Pacers dominated 30-17, and two more 3-pointers in the fourth, which the Pacers further dominated, 32-17. He hit 3-of-5 3-pointers overall, uncharacteristic marksmanship for a career 25 percent 3-point shooter who entered the game hitting 28 percent this season.
Ellis had no explanation for the drastic turnabout in his shooting.
"I don't think any of them (in the first half) were forced shots," he said. "They were shots I normally take, they just weren't going in. That's why there's two halves in basketball."
One last time, he was asked. Didn't this game feel special for you?
"I've been (playing) basketball since I was five," he said. "Never been scared. I always approach the game the right way. It's just in my blood to go out and just play. It's a game at the end of the day."
But some games are bigger than others.
Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at email@example.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.