by Adam Figman

When Caron Butler went down for the season, many doubted the possibility that the Mavs could make a serious run in ’10-11. A handful of names popped up in subsequent trade rumors, as onlookers assumed they’d be looking to replace Butler’s defensive prowess and energy level as best they could. A trade never happened, and that assistance needed to come from within.

It has. Three rounds into this year’s NBA Playoffs, it’s becoming more and more clear that Shawn Marion is the guy the Mavs can depend on to create stops and shut down the opposition’s best swingman.

ESPN Dallasis detailing Marion’s emergence, noting that the way to keep the 6-7 forward involved is simple: piss him the hell off.

Shawn Marion’s teammates might not be nice to him the rest of the playoffs.

Not after the way a mad Matrix played during the Dallas Mavericks’ 93-87 in Saturday night’s tiebreaking Game 3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“We’ve got to have him pissed,” Mavs big man Tyson Chandler said. “We’ve got to have him slashing all over the place and being aggressive. We don’t want the happy Trix. I like the angry [Marion]. He can be pissed off at all of us if he gives us the results.”

Marion’s teammates and coaches mercilessly criticized him during film sessions the last couple of days. They wouldn’t accept his lack of aggression in the first two games of this series, when Dallas had by far its worst defensive performances of the postseason.

The Matrix’s response: He embraced the challenge. Unlike the last two games, Marion was the aggressor from the get-go.

Marion was the main man in the Mavs’ defense of Kevin Durant, who made only seven of 22 shots from the floor and went 0-of-8 from 3-point range during a horribly inefficient 24-point performance. He set the tone for Dallas returning to the in-your-grill defensive style it had during the first two rounds, when the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers failed to crack triple digits in any game.

Plus, Marion had his best offensive performance of these playoffs, scoring 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting to help offset off nights by Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry. Eight of his shot attempts, including seven buckets, came at the rim, evidence of his attacking mentality. By comparison, Marion was only 7-of-13 inside five feet in the first two games of the series, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

“Shawn Marion stepped up big,” shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson said. “He wasn’t kind of there the first two games and we talked about it. Him being the person he is, he came back strong. We need that from him.”

Those last words pretty much sum this one up. If the Mavs are to have any shot of continuing to slow down the Thunder, they’ll need Marion to be their guy—both by bodying up Kevin Durant on defense and providing a tangible energy spark on offense.