SAN ANTONIO – There has never been a better closeout coach in NBA history than Gregg Popovich, except when he’s trying to eliminate Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavericks.
No coach has a better winning percentage when they have a chance to knock out the opponent. He’s 24-9 in such games.
But Popovich’s Spurs are only 2-4 when they’ve got a chance to send the Mavs home for summer. The Mavs have won three of four such games featuring Dirk, who sat out the final few games of the Interstate 35 rivals’ 2003 series due to a knee injury.
A look at Dirk’s performances in win-or-the-end games against Pop’s Spurs:
Mavs 112, Spurs 108 (Game 4, 2001 Western Conference semifinals)
A Terry Porter elbow knocked out Nowitzki’s front tooth during the fourth quarter, but Dirk returned after only 33 seconds to make sure the Mavs avoided the sweep. He finished with 30 points and nine rebounds, scoring the Mavs’ final four points. This came a few days after Nowitzki fell ill with food poisoning. "What a gutsy guy," Mavs coach Don Nelson said. "Our whole team kind of rallied around that.”
Spurs 105, Mavs 87 (Game 5, 2001 Western Conference semifinals)
Nowitzki was the lone bright spot for the Mavs in this blowout. He capped his first playoff berth with 42 points, 18 rebounds and six steals.
Mavs 119, Spurs 111 in OT (Game 7, 2006 Western Conference semifinals)
There’s never been a better moment in Mavs history than Dirk’s drive for an and-1 layup to force overtime after the Mavs blew a 20-point lead at the AT&T Center. That highlighted his 37-point, 15-rebound performance as the Mavs finally eliminated the Spurs, who had clawed back from a 3-1 deficit. "I saw everything slipping away, the great season we had," Nowitzki said.
Mavs 103, Spurs 81 (Game 5, 2010 Western Conference first round)
For once, the Mavs didn’t need a dominant performance from Dirk to keep the Spurs from closing them out. Nowitzki (15 points, nine rebounds) took a backseat to Caron Butler, who set career playoff highs with 35 points and 11 rebounds.