DALLAS -- Unlike last month at Madison Square Garden, the basketball gods didn't bless Dirk Nowitzki with an extremely fortunate shooter's roll on this buzzer-beater.
With the Mavericks trailing the Minnesota Timberwolves by one point on the final possession in overtime, Nowitzki caught the ball at one of his old sweet spots at the top of the key, faced up, put the ball on the floor once with his left hand, pump faked and launched a 16-foot fadeaway with Kevin Love in his face.
Nowitzki has made plenty of clutch shots with that degree of difficulty over the course of his Hall of Fame career. Not this time. The ball clanked off the back of the rim, rendering the Mavs' furious rally from a deficit that was as high as 22 points meaningless.
Timberwolves 123, Mavs 122.
"I thought everybody was phenomenal," Nowitzki said, referring to his teammates' effort to give the Mavs a chance to pull off what would have been their biggest comeback of the season. "I just couldn't get it done."
Blasphemous as it might be to question giving the great Nowitzki the ball with the game on the line, coach Rick Carlisle's decision to call an iso for his superstar in that situation is ripe for second-guessing.
Why not put the ball in Monta Ellis' hands and let him run a pick-and-pop with Nowitzki? That's the bread and butter of these Mavs' offense, not the Dirk isos of days past.
After all, it was Ellis who had the hot hand, going on a 12-point scoring flurry in the final 3:49 of regulation to give the Mavs a chance to win the game. Including a 3-pointer in overtime, Ellis made five of the last six shots he attempted. Nowitzki led the Mavs with 27 points, but he needed 27 shots to do it, making only 11.
Give Ellis a chance to run the pick-and-pop with Nowitzki and it's virtually guaranteed that one of them gets a better look than a tightly contested 16-foot fadeaway. But that was the fallback option on the final possession.
"Dirk was the first option," Carlisle said. "If he had been denied, he would have come up and set a screen for Monta, and Monta would have attacked.
"Look, the last possession always gets overanalyzed in games like this. Our poor play at the beginning of the game is the reason it came down the way it did. Shame on us."
Carlisle makes a fair point, but forgive us for continuing the overanalysis of the last play.
There have been many times when Nowitzki ended an off night on a high note by delivering a clutch dagger, such as that Feb. 24 win over the New York Knicks, when he hit what he declared as the ugliest game winner of his career off a top-of-the-key iso.
The fact there are so many Dirk game winners to choose from -- 22 in his career, including playoffs -- makes it difficult to be too harsh with criticism about going to the big German during winning time regardless of the circumstances.
In fairness to Carlisle, Nowitzki had snapped out of his 0-of-5 fourth-quarter funk by scoring six points on 3-of-4 shooting leading up to that last possession in overtime, when the Mavs needed an answer to a beautiful, double-team-splitting floater by Love (35 points) that gave Minnesota the lead with 17.1 seconds left. And Nowitzki had scored off an iso on the Mavs' previous possession, hitting a pretty fadeaway after driving right and spinning back toward the middle of the lane.
"I don't question anything," Nowitzki said. "I just go out there and try to help my team win. I guess I just scored on the previous possession, so you never know."
Ellis didn't stick around the locker room to give reporters a chance to get his thoughts on the final possession. He dressed and departed as quickly as possible, which isn't unusual for Ellis after an emotional loss.
Nowitzki's biggest regret about the final possession had nothing to do with the play call. He wishes he had gone about creating his shot a different way.
"I probably shouldn't even have pump faked," Nowitzki said. "I know [Love] wasn't going to go for it because he uses the pump fake himself 20 times a game, so I probably should have just gone one dribble and up. But it's too late now."
Of course, it didn't need to come down to that for Dallas.
The Mavs made it as difficult as possible on themselves with dreadful transition defense that was the primary reason the Timberwolves jumped out of a 22-point lead early in the second quarter. Dallas also blew a five-point overtime lead, in part because of a foolish foul by grizzled veteran Vince Carter while Love was shooting a 3-pointer. And Nowitzki missed a good look at a 3-pointer off a pick-and-pop with Ellis that would have given the Mavs the lead in the final minute of regulation.
"I just wasn't good enough," said Nowitzki, who mentioned that this felt as painful as a playoff loss. "I wasn't good enough there in the second half and overtime. I had so many open looks, even from 3. Just one of those nights. I take that on me.
"I thought the team responded well and played well. I just had a lot of open looks that just didn't go down."
It ended with a tough shot that didn't go down. It's hard to believe the Mavs wouldn't have ended up with a better look by putting the ball in Ellis' hands, no matter how many times Dirk has delivered when it mattered most.