- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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DALLAS – Few things make the face of the Dallas Mavericks’ franchise smile like a Game 7.
“It’s the ultimate thrill,” Dirk Nowitzki said after the Mavs pushed this first-round series to the limit with Friday’s Game 6 comeback win over the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. “It’s win or go home. Everything that happened before it is out the window. Nothing [else] matters.
“It’s just that one game. It’s great competition. It’s the ultimate competition. You’ve got to love it. You’ve got to embrace it.”
Nowitzki is the ultimate Game 7 performer.
He knows nothing but the thrill of victory in the winner-takes-all series finales. Nowitzki is 4-0 in Game 7 action throughout his career, and his numbers in those games border on ridiculous.
You think joining a trio of Hall of Famers – Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit and Hakeem Olajuwon – in the exclusive career 25-point, 10-rebound club is impressive? Nowitzki has averaged 28 points and 14.8 rebounds in Game 7s, with all of that experience coming between 2003 and ’06.
How silly is it that the big German was stereotyped as a “soft Euro” until he led the Mavs on a 2011 championship march without a series going seven games?
Dirk registered a points-rebound double-double in each of his four swings at a Game 7. The only other active players with four such Game 7 double-doubles in their career are Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
Nowitzki has three 30-10 Game 7 lines. He’s the only guy who can make that claim in the basketball-reference.com database, which dates to 1986. The only two-timers in that time span: LeBron James and Karl Malone.
Nowitzki put up a 31-point, 11-rebound line in his first Game 7, when the Mavs avoided going from up 3-0 to out by beating the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2003 West first round. He had 30 and 19 in a Game 7 win over the Sacramento Kings the next series. His least impressive Game 7 line – 14 points and 14 rebounds – came in a 40-point rout of the Houston Rockets in the 2005 first round, the most lopsided Game 7 in NBA history.
Then there was that classic overtime duel against Duncan in the 2006 West semifinals, the only time the Spurs have been knocked out on their home floor in a Game 7.
Duncan blew up for 41 points and 15 rebounds. Nowitzki had 37 points and 15 rebounds. Dirk’s driving and-1 forced the game into overtime, and the Mavs prevailed.
“It’s going to be a game of runs and you’ve just got to weather the storm sometimes,” Nowitzki said when asked how that Game 7 experience in San Antonio might help him prepare his teammates for this massive challenge. “That game, we were up 20. Next thing you know, [Manu] Ginobili makes a 3 and we were down 3 in the last minute. You’ve just got to play every possession.
“In the playoffs, that’s what you focus on. In a Game 7, you don’t want to think ahead. You don’t want to think about your next shot. You just worry about your next possession. You play this possession as hard as you can. … You got to stay in the moment.”
Take it from a guy who has risen to those moments as well as anyone in NBA history.