DALLAS -- Call Dirk Nowitzki a non-crunch-time performer at your own risk.
If he isn't changing minds with his fourth-quarter performances in staking the Dallas Mavericks to a 2-0 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers, nothing will do it. Nowitzki hasn't been great early on, missing on some shots that are normally automatic and at other times struggling to get clean looks against the defense of Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Nowitzki is 16-of-42 from the field in the first two games yet is easily the most dominant player on the floor. His fourth quarters speak for themselves. That hasn't stopped the sellout crowd in the opening two games of this franchise's critical first-round series from speaking for Dirk by starting the "MVP" chant.
Nowitzki scored 28 points in Game 1 and followed it up with 33 in Game 2. On both nights his brilliant final periods carried the team to victory. He has outscored his counterpart Aldridge, 32-9, in the final frame.
In the first three quarters of both games, Nowitzki has scored 29 total points on 10-of-31 shooting and 9-0f-9 from the free throw line.
In the fourth quarter, however, Nowitzki's numbers are mesmerizing: 32 points on 6-of-11 shooting -- 1-of-1 from 3-point range -- and 19-of-21 from the free throw line. And he's earning every one of them, pounding his body inside, absorbing contact and finishing strong.
"This team is going to keep fighting," Nowitzki said. "I’m going to keep fighting."
Nowitzki finished Game 2 with seven rebounds, giving him 17 in the two games and four assists effectively passing out of double teams to red-hot shooters.
The Blazers, as Gerald Wallace suggested afterward, is one tough cover.
"You're telling me," Wallace said. "It's tough when you don't know how to guard him. He has an arsenal of tactics down there as far as getting to the basket and getting his shot off. But, I think we did a great job on him tonight. Once again, our main thing is trying to keep him
off the free throw line. It's tough when he's making shots and he's getting to the free throw line. Either or, but you can't give up both of them."
Wallace's comment sounds contradictory, yet at the same time it is accurate. The Blazers have done a good job on Nowitzki for six of eight quarters.
But, the fourth quarter is a real killer.