Now, back at the AT&T Center, Nowitzki has to deal with the agony of Game 7 defeat.
"It’s awful," Nowitzki said after the eighth-seeded Mavs’ season ended Sunday with a 119-96 loss. "You can’t really grasp that your season is over now. It’s 3-3, and it’s anybody’s ballgame. It’s just one game and now your season’s over. It’s a tough one.
"I’ll probably be proud of this team and what we did even to get to the playoffs in a couple of days, but right now, this one stings."
Nowitzki’s desire to win and competitive fire was evident on Dallas’ first possession of the game, when he drained a midrange jumper and let out a roar as he ran down the floor. It seemed distinctly possible at that moment that Nowitzki would have another epic Game 7 performance.
It was not to be, however.
Nowitzki missed his next five shots. By the time he made another one, Dallas was already down by double digits, with Spurs point guard Tony Parker driving and scoring seemingly at will.
Nowitzki finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, going 8-of-21 from the floor. That’s not a terrible day, but it’s nowhere near the standards of a future Hall of Famer who is one of three players in NBA history with three 30-point, 10-rebound performances in a Game 7.
It was a painful way to end a phenomenal season for the face of the franchise, who proved he could stay healthy and play at an All-Star level as a 35-year-old by averaging 21.7 points per game and accomplishing his goal of leading the Mavs back to the playoffs.
Now, Nowitzki enters free agency, not that there’s a lot of mystery there. It’s just a matter of Nowitzki and Mavs owner Mark Cuban working out the numbers on the contract he signs to stay in Dallas, the only NBA home he’ll ever know.
"I don’t know what’s going to happen as far as how much money we can pay him, but whatever it is, it won’t be enough because he has such high impact on everything that goes on with our team and everything that goes on with our organization," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "This is 30 years for me in the league, and I played with [Larry] Bird and I played with some great guys. There’s nobody that I’ve been around that carries a bigger load for an organization than Dirk Nowitzki.
"I can’t say in words how much respect I have for him and what he stands for and everything he’s done for this organization and for me in the last six years. And he’s got a lot of good years left. I think that’s pretty evident."
Nowitzki, who has claimed since last summer that he’ll take a significant pay cut, said it’s too soon to think about the details of the deal. A good guess: He’ll give Cuban a discount in the Tim Duncan range (three years, $30 million).
"That’s something we’re going to talk about way later," said Nowitzki, a 16-year veteran who has made more than $200 million in his career. "Right now, [I am] just disappointed that we lost a Game 7."
That’s a sickening feeling Nowitzki never knew until Sunday afternoon.