Countdown: Spotlight player

December, 20, 2011
12/20/11
11:30
PM CT
DALLAS -- The "but" has been removed from the sentence.

Christmas Countdown
Dirk Nowitzki is one of the all-time greats. Period.

His critics -- an army that included Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, who called out Nowitzki for failing to come through as a closer in the 2006 Finals -- have to give Dirk all the credit he deserves after the Mavs finally reached the NBA mountaintop.

"I think he's played awesome, man," Wade said after the Mavs finished off the Heat in this summer's Finals. "Obviously Dirk, five years ago, it burned in him. He learned from that experience. ...

"So there's no question he's been a great individual player, and now that he's a champion, it goes without saying what it does for his career."

Nowitzki, who ranks 23rd in NBA history with 22,792 career points and will probably be in the top 10 after the three remaining seasons of his contract, filled in the final line of his surefire Hall of Fame resume by earning a championship ring.

He answered every question about his clutch shots by coming through when it mattered most time after time during the title run, averaging 10.0 points in fourth quarters during the 2011 playoffs and leading several stunning comebacks.

Nowitzki has long been known as arguably the most unique 7-footer to ever play the game, a big man whose best attribute was his ability to shoot the ball. For years, he was stereotyped as soft. No more.

Not after consistently displaying killer instinct during the Mavs' spectacular, shocking playoff run. That actually continued a trend from the previous several seasons, but the basketball world can't deny Nowitzki's clutch chops after they were displayed on the game's biggest stage.

Nowitzki admits he wasn't always that way. He's as proud of his evolution in that role as anything he's accomplished.

"I was almost a little scared to be in that position," Nowitzki said, "and then when [veterans like Steve Nash and Michael Finley] all left, I was kind of put in that position to be a man down the stretch. At the beginning, it took me a while to get used to it, but now I really enjoy the situations to get the ball and everybody's looking towards and you have to make that decision.

"That's a fun situation to be in now, but obviously it takes some hard work."

That's a "but" that has never bothered the face of the Mavs' franchise.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Nowitzki 6.2
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9