Dallas Mavericks: Nick Van Exel

Dirk goes down Mavs-Spurs memory lane

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
Tim Duncan, Dirk NowitzkiAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesThis marks the sixth time that Dirk Nowitzki has faced off against the Spurs in a playoff series.
DALLAS -- They meet again.

This will make a half-dozen times Dirk Nowitzki has seen the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. He’s felt some agony and some ecstasy in the previous five series against the Mavericks’ Interstate 35 rival, a four-time title-winning franchise that served as a roadblock on Dallas’ route through the West for years.

They are unforgettable highs and lows from those series from the Spurs, memories that are engrained in the minds of Mavs fans, as well as the face of the franchise.

This is how Nowitzki remembers those Mavs-Spurs series, as shared with ESPNDallas.com a day before he departs to start another series in San Antonio:

Series: West semifinals
Outcome: Spurs in five
Nowitzki’s numbers: 23.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 44.6 FG%

Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “We had no chance.

“We had just beaten Utah in the first round after being down 0-2. I remember when [Karl] Malone missed that last shot in Game 5, we were running around on the court like we won the championship. I mean, it was insane. I was lapping around the arena like twice. It was insane. So just for us to beat those guys, that’s how much respect we had for Utah and Malone and [John] Stockton.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan
Tom Hauck/AllsportDirk Nowitzki says the Mavs had no chance against Tim Duncan and the Spurs in their 2001 series.
“Then it was hard. It was for a young team to turn around and play against those machines. [Tim] Duncan was obviously so good back in those days, so we really had no shot.

“We lost the first two down there. I remember we went straight from Utah to San Antonio for the first one. It was pretty much over with. The second one, we were kind of around, but not really. And if you want to make a series of it, you’ve got to win Game 3. I remember I was sick. I had food poisoning that game, and then we’re down 0-3. That was basically it.

“We played hard in Game 4 and were able to steal one. The game we stole here, I came back in [after getting a tooth knocked out by a Terry Porter elbow] and we won the game. Then in Game 5, they were just so good defensively. Whatever we tried, they had counters. They were long in there with those two 7-footers. I mean, they were good.”

Series: West finals
Outcome: Spurs in six
Nowitzki’s numbers: 25.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 43.1 FG% in three games

Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “I remember we stole Game 1, which was amazing. We were 49-of-50 from the free throw line. That was an amazing, amazing game for us. Game 2, we lost and then here in Game 3 is a big game. Obviously, you want to hold home court, and that’s the game I got hurt.


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“It was tough. I wanted to play and I was testing [his sprained knee]. It felt OK with the adrenaline going.

“But looking back on my career now, it probably was the right decision. Nellie didn’t want me to play. I was young at the time. At this stage of my career, it probably would have made sense to play. I’m old, but then, even I felt it sometimes getting up in timeouts and stuff. It just wasn’t right, just didn’t feel right. Probably looking back on it now, it was the right decision, but it was tough.

“We go down there [for Game 5] and we’re thinking they might close us out. We steal that game. It’s 3-2 and we have a chance here to force Game 7. We were up [13] in the fourth.

“Nellie played small ball. We played Walt Williams at the 4 and just spread it out and let Nick [Van Exel] and Steve [Nash] drive, and it worked great. Then they subbed in Steve Kerr and he made like three or four 3s in that fourth quarter. They came back, and that was that.

“I don’t know, I might have tried to play in Game 7. You never know, but that was disappointing.”

Series: West semifinals
Outcome: Mavs in seven
Nowitzki’s numbers: 27.1 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 52.7 FG%

Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “Maybe the best over the course of seven games, the best series I’ve had in my career.

“Just felt locked in, felt in my prime and felt whatever coverage they’re doing, I can score on it. That’s how confident I was. What a great series.

“We win both home games here and went up 3-1, but that’s just how good they are. They just keep coming. They win down there and it’s 3-2. We try to close out here, and they just keep coming. They make it 3-3. Jet [Jason Terry] was suspended for one of those games for a little [groin] clip, so that was tough.

[+] EnlargeNowitzki
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki called his overtime-forcing and-1 in Game 7 of the 2006 West semifinals one of the biggest plays of his career.
“Then we go down there for Game 7 and it’s one of the greatest games I remember. We were rolling early. We were up 20 in the first half. Just everything goes -- Josh [Howard], Jet, Devin [Harris] driving, I was shooting it -- so it was great. Avery [Johnson] was like, ‘Hey, those boys are going to keep playing.’ Sure enough, it was almost methodically. They always come back. They get stops, the keep grinding and next thing you know ...

“I always remember Jet leaving Ginobili on the wing when Duncan was posting up on me, and he pulled the trigger. I looked when it was in the air -- boom! Bottoms! The place went absolutely nuts.

“Down three and I remember we had [32.9 seconds left], and I was thinking we were kind of in a similar situation in Game 6. We were down three and I shot a bad 3. I was thinking to myself and Avery even said it: ‘In this situation, don’t hoist a bad 3. Make sure you get to the basket. Anything can happen.’

“So I just spun and put my head down on [Bruce] Bowen and said, ‘I’m going to lay this in.’ We can foul again and at least extend the game. And Ginobili just left [Jerry Stackhouse] in the corner and came over and wanted to block it. I was able to kind of luckily muscle it over a little bit. It hit the rim and bounced in. That was probably one of the biggest plays of my career. Made the free throw.

“I don’t think I scored again in overtime. [He actually hit two free throws to put the Mavs up eight with 9.9 seconds left, giving him 37 points for the game.] The boys were great. We subbed in Gana [Diop] and he made some big stops on Duncan. He had one or two big offensive rebounds. Stack made two pull-ups, I remember.

“Yeah, that was a fun game, fun series for me. I mean, to win a Game 7 in that building is about as sweet as it gets in this league.”

Series: West first round
Outcome: Mavs in five
Nowitzki’s numbers: 19.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, .493 FG%

Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “Ginobili was hurt and they really never had enough weapons to beat us that year. I don’t think they had enough weapons without him.

“We tried to take Duncan and [Tony] Parker out as much as we could, and it worked really well. With them without Ginobili, it made it a little easier.”

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Mavs were the No. 2 seed in 2010 but fell to the No. 7 Spurs.
Series: West first round
Outcome: Spurs in six
Nowitzki’s numbers: 26.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 54.7 FG%

Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “It was a little messed up, because we’d just traded for Caron [Butler] and DeShawn [Stevenson] and [Brendan] Haywood and we were actually the No. 2 seed. They played without Ginobili most of the season, and right at the right time he gets healthy. They’re the 7 seed, we’re the 2 seed.

“That’s obviously a tough matchup for any 2 seed, to run into the Spurs healthy at the right time.

“We made some mistakes, but they were good. They were healthy at the right time.

“We wanted to win and force it here and at least force it to a Game 7. I remember we were so good on the road after we traded for these guys, and we just needed to win one road game. We lost all three games down there and that ultimately sealed it. They stole Game 2 up here and we figured we’ve got three chances to steal a game down there, because we’re pretty good on the road. They won all three down there, and that’s what ultimately lost us that series.”

Mavs put games in Dirk Nowitzki's hands

January, 12, 2012
Before this season started, Dirk Nowitzki said the part of his game he's most proud of at this stage of his career is his late-game prowess. He said in the early days Steve Nash or Michael Finley, and then even Nick Van Exel, took the big shots with the game on the line.

These days there's arguably no one better in the league producing in the clutch than Nowitzki. He made that perfectly clear in the NBA Finals -- Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem will attest to that, and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle continues to put the ball in his big man's hands when the game is on the line.

Nowitzki continued his game-winning dominance with Wednesday's drive-and-finish despite getting dropped to the floor by Celtics forwards Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett. The three-point play gave Dallas an 88-85 lead with 5.1 seconds to play. Nowitzki scored nine of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, another fourth that showed how much the Mavs depend one of the game's most difficult covers to take over in the final frame.

"It’s a fun situation to be in," said Nowitzki, who needs three points to reach 23,000 for his career. "Everybody’s looking at you and your team really depends on you so I like to be in the position where I can make something happen. It doesn’t always have to be a shot, but just to make a play for my teammates and it's been going pretty good."

These numbers from ESPN Stats & Info highlight the Mavs' reliance on Nowitzki's fourth-quarter production:
Nowitzki took over for the Mavericks in the fourth quarter by going to his isolation game. Nowitzki scored nine of the Mavericks’ 22 fourth-quarter points, five of which came on isolation sets. This season, the Mavericks have run isolation plays for Nowitzki more than twice as often in the fourth quarter compared to the first three. Among the 50 players who have at least 20 isolation plays this season, Nowitzki ranks third in field-goal percentage (52.6).

2003-04: Year of Antoines and Antawns

May, 13, 2010
Fourth in a series chronicling the Mavericks' streak of 10 seasons with 50 or more wins (previous installments).

The Dallas Mavericks were fresh off an exciting run to the Western Conference finals and motivated by the belief that had Dirk Nowitzki not suffered a knee sprain in Game 3, they would have defeated the San Antonio Spurs and advanced to the franchise's first NBA Finals.

[+] EnlargeAntoine Walker & Antawn Jamison
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesMark Cuban's changes in 2003-04 included adding Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison.
(And, wow, how might the landscape have changed throughout the 2000s had the Mavs won that series? The Spurs went on to beat New Jersey for their first of three titles in five seasons.)

But, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made wholesale changes that he would later say were a mistake. The Big Three of Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley returned along with Shawn Bradley and Eduardo Najera.

The rest of the roster received a major makeover, namely with two lanky, head-band wearing rookies and two big-name acquisitions named Antoine, er, Antawn.

All-in-all, the 2003-04 season would prove to be a disappointing watershed year for Nash, Nowitzki, Don Nelson and the franchise as a whole.

Coach: Don Nelson
Record: 52-30 (3rd, Midwest Division)
Playoffs: Lost to Sacramento (4-1).
Team payroll: $76.5 million*
Highest-paid player: Antoine Walker ($13.5 million)*

Offseason transactions: F/G Josh Howard (drafted in first round, 29th pick); G/F Marquis Daniels (rookie free agent); G Travis Best (free agent); traded Evan Eschmeyer, Avery Johnson, Popeye Jones, Antoine Rigaudeau and Nick Van Exel to Golden State for Antawn Jamison, Chris Mills, Danny Fortson and Jiri Welsch; traded Raef LaFrentz, Mills, Welsch and a 2004 first-round draft pick (Delonte West) to Boston for Antoine Walker and Tony Delk.

In-season transaction: Jan. 30, 2004: Signed Scott Williams (free agent).

[+] EnlargeMarquis Daniels, Josh Howard
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMarquis Daniels (6) and Josh Howard (5) would join the Mavs' fray in 2003, but it was the beginning of the end for Steve Nash in Dallas.
The high: The Mavs won their first 10 games at home on their way to a franchise-best 35-6 home record. Antawn Jamison accepted a reserve role and was named the Sixth Man of the Year. Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels made the All-Rookie second team. On Nov. 17, 2003, Steve Nash recorded the first triple-double in American Airlines Center history (14 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds). Dallas led the league in scoring (105.2) for a third consecutive season. On Dec. 12, 2003, one year and a few days after blowing a 30-point lead at the L.A. Lakers, Dallas finally ended an agonizing, 26-game road losing streak to the Lakers, a string that stretched exactly 12 seasons. On Dec. 15, coach Don Nelson surpassed Pat Riley for second place on the all-time coaching wins list.

The low: The new lineup some called the 'Fantasy Five' just didn't click. After winning 60 games the prior season, the Mavs dropped by eight wins and settled for the No. 5 seed. Nelson often liked to go with a small lineup with Walker at center -- in fact, Nelson made Walker agree to play center in the final 10 games just for him to get on the floor -- but that didn't stop Walker from hoisting 305 3-pointers, (he made 82 of them) second on the team behind Michael Finley's 370. Nash received heavy criticism for his defense on Sacramento guard Mike Bibby in the five-game, first-round loss. Bibby outscored Nash in the series, 23.6 to 13.6, and went off for six 3-pointers and 36 points in the Kings' series-clinching victory. Nelson, as well as many of the Mavs players, ended the season with a cloudy future. To be sure, an offseason of change was on the horizon again, but no one saw the biggest change of all coming.

F Dirk Nowitzki (team-leading 21.8 ppg and 8.7 rpg)
G Michael Finley (18.6 ppg, 40.5% 3FGs)
F Antawn Jamison (14.8 ppg, 53.5% FG)
G Steve Nash (14.5 ppg, team-leading 8.8 apg)
F Antoine Walker (14.0 ppg, 26.9% 3FG)
F/G Josh Howard (8.6 ppg, 23.7 mpg)
G/F Marquis Daniels (8.5 ppg, 18.6 mpg)
G Tony Delk (6.0 ppg)
F Scott Williams (3.0 ppg in 27 games with Dallas)
F Danny Fortson (3.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
C Shawn Bradley (3.3 ppg, 74 blocks in 66 games)
F Eduardo Najera (3.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg in 58 games)
G Travis Best (2.8 ppg, 1.8 apg in 61 games)

*Source: Basketball-Reference.com

2002-03: Dirk goes down in West finals

May, 12, 2010
MavericksAP Photo/Donna McWilliamFrom left, Shawn Bradley, Adrian Griffin and Eduardo Najera had a hard time watching the Mavs' playoff run end against the Spurs in the 2003 Western Conference finals.
Third in a series chronicling the Mavericks' streak of 10 seasons with 50 or more wins (previous installments).

Coach: Don Nelson
Record: 60-22 (T1st, Midwest Division)
Playoffs: Defeated Portland (4-3); defeated Sacramento (4-3), lost to San Antonio (4-2)
Team payroll: $72.9*
Highest-paid player: Michael Finley ($11.95 million)*

Offseason transactions: G Walt Williams (free agent); G Raja Bell (free agent); F Popeye Jones (free agent); G Adam Harrington (free agent, then released in January)

Major transaction: G Antoine Rigaudeau (free agent, signed Jan. 17, 2003)

The high: The Mavs posted a second consecutive franchise record for wins. They started the season 14-0, falling one win shy of tying the NBA record. Dallas led the NBA in scoring for a second straight season (103.0) and committed an NBA record-low 11.6 turnovers a game. Dirk Nowitzki averaged a career-best 25.1 points a game, finishing sixth in the league, and joined Mark Aguirre as the only Mavericks player to score 2,000 or more points in a single season. Nowitzki finished with 2,011. He and Steve Nash (17.7 points, 7.3 assists) made the West All-Star team again. After taking a 3-0 lead over Portland in the first year of the first-round being expanded to best-of-7, the Mavs had to pull out a Game 7 to advance. Dallas then slayed Sacramento in seven games, a series that included a thrilling 141-137 double overtime win in Sacramento and a 112-99 Game 7 win in Dallas in which Nowitzki scored 30 points and had 19 rebounds. It put the Mavs in the West finals for just the second time in franchise history and first since 1988.

[+] EnlargeSteve Nash
AP Photo/Donna McWilliamSteve Nash couldn't lead the Mavericks past the Spurs in the 2003 Western Conference quarterfinals, although helped the Suns do it this year.
The low: On Dec. 6, 2002, the Mavs suffered one of the franchise's worst losses to their most hated nemesis. Playing in Los Angeles, the Mavs blew a 30-point lead to the Lakers, who trailed 88-61 at the end of the third quarter. But, the biggest letdown came in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals when Dirk Nowitzki went down with a sprained knee. The Mavs lost the game to trail San Antonio, 2-1, and the news wasn't good: "The news is not good," Mavericks coach Don Nelson said. "His knee is very sore. I don't expect he'll play [in Game 4], and I'm not sure if he'll play in this series." Nowitzki didn't play the rest of the series. The Spurs won Game 4 in Dallas, but Michael Finley's 31 points in Game 5 extended the sreies to Game 6 back at the American Airlines Center. The Mavs were giving the Spurs all they could handle. That is until Steve Kerr popped off the bench and took over. Kerr put on a 3-point blitz and the Spurs outscored the Mavs, 34-9, in the fourth quarter. The series began the falling out process between Nelson and Mark Cuban, who wanted Nowitzki to play in the late stages of the series. Nelson insisted Nowitzki sit, unwilling to risk the health of the knee of the franchise player. Had Nowitzki played and the Mavs won the series, they had to like their chances against the Jason Kidd-led New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals. The Spurs certainly did.

The roster:
F Dirk Nowitzki (team-leading 25.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 111 steals)
G Michael Finley (19.3 ppg, 37.0% 3FG)
G Steve Nash (17.7 points, team-high 7.3 assists and 41.3% 3FG)
G Nick Van Exel (12.5 ppg, 4.3 apg, 27.8 mpg as sixth man)
F/C Raef LaFrentz (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 91 blocks in 69 games)
C Shawn Bradley (6.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 170 blocks in 21.4 mpg)
F Eduardo Najera (6.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg in 48 games)
F Walt Williams (5.5 ppg, 37.4% 3FG)
G/F Adrian Griffin (4.4 ppg in 18.6 mpg)
F Tariq Abdul-Wahad (Played in just 14 games)
G Avery Johnson (3.3 ppg in 48 games)
G Raja Bell (3.1 ppg in 75 games)
F Popeye Jones (2.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg in 26 games)
G Antoine Rigaudeau (1.5 ppg, 0.5 apg in 11 games)
F/C Evan Eschmeyer (1.0 ppg, 1.4 rpg in 17 games)

*Source: Basketball-Reference.com

50 for 10: New unis, new 'tude in 2001-02

May, 10, 2010
Second in a series chronicling the Mavericks' streak of 10 seasons with 50 or more wins (previous installments).

[+] EnlargeMavs
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesOwner Mark Cuban's Mavericks debuted new uniforms in the 2001-02 season and were led by the Big Three of Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash.
Feeling good after a successful re-entry into the playoffs in 2000-01 after 11 futile seasons, the Dallas Mavericks ditched their old duds, saying goodbye to the Donald Carter Cowboy hat that had served as the franchise's logo since 1980 and embarking on a new era with a sharper, more modern-looking uniform and a sleek horse-head logo.

The alterations were fitting with the Mavericks moving into the luxurious American Airlines Center and leaving behind the cozy, but run-down Reunion Arena and the dark days of the 1990s. With exuberant new owner Mark Cuban wearing jeans and T-shirts behind the bench, and an exciting Big Three taking hold, Dallas was suddenly a player again in the Western Conference.

A second consecutive big deadline deal injected toughness into Don Nelson's team -- which wouldn't fully be realized until the following season -- and it was clear the city was getting behind this fun-and-gun team that was bringing breakneck offense back to the NBA.

Consider that the Mavs finished the season with the league's top-scoring offense at 105.2 points a game. Dallas was one of four teams to average at least 100 points. Now this is truly amazing: This season, 18 teams averaged at least 100 points. So, the Mavs were doing something almost no one else was at the time and excitment was building for a second playoff run.

Coach: Don Nelson
Record: 57-25 (2nd, Midwest Division)
Playoffs: Defeated Minnesota (3-0); lost to Sacramento (4-1).
Team payroll: $56.98 million*
Highest-paid player: Juwan Howard ($17.8 million)*

Offseason transactions: G Adrian Griffin (free agent); C Evan Eschmeyer (free agent); F Danny Manning (free agent); G Johnny Newman (free agent); traded 2004 second-round draft pick (Matt Freije) to Miami for G Tim Hardaway.

Major transaction: Feb. 21, 2002: Traded Tim Hardaway, Donnell Harvey, Juwan Howard, cash and a 2002 first-round draft pick (Frank Williams) to Denver for Avery Johnson, Raef LaFrentz, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Nick Van Exel.

[+] EnlargeCuban/Nelson
AP Photo/LM OteroMavericks owner Mark Cuban presented coach Don Nelson a jacket commemorating his 1,000th career victory.
The high: Dirk Nowitzki (23.4 ppg), Michael Finley (20.6 ppg) and Steve Nash (17.9) combined to average 61.9 points a game. ... Nowitzki and Nash were named to the West All-Star team coached by Don Nelson. ... On Dec. 29, 2001, Nelson became just the third coach in NBA history to record 1,000 career wins. ... Raef LaFrentz, acquired in a deadline trade to help space the floor and draw post defenders to the perimeter, became the third player in league history to register 100 3-pointers and 100 blocks in the same season. ... The Mavs never lost more than three in a row.

The low: The playoffs started with the Mavs rolling past Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves by an average of 10.6 points in a three-game sweep. The Mavs then got the split they wanted at ARCO Arena to start the second round against the Chris Webber-Mike Bibby-Peja Stojakovic Kings and came home to the AAC. The good times didn't last long as the Mavs lost both home games, including a 115-113 overtime defeat in Game 4 that saw Nowitzki score 31 and Webber go for 30. The Kings took Game 5, 114-101, back in Sacramento to end the Mavs' season with a thud.

F Dirk Nowitzki (team-leading 23.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg)
G Michael Finley (20.6 ppg, team-high 39.9 minutes)
G Steve Nash (17.9 points, team-high 7.7 assists and 45.5% 3FG)
G Nick Van Exel (13.2 ppg, 4.2 apg in 27 games with Dallas)
F Juwan Howard (12.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg before traded in February)
F/C Raef LaFrentz (10.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 60 blocks in 27 games with Dallas)
G Avery Johnson (3.2 points, 8.9 minutes in 17 games with Dallas)
G/F Adrian Griffin (7.2 ppg in 58 games)
F Eduardo Najera (6.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 21.9 mpg)
G Greg Buckner (Avg. 5.8 points in 44 games)
F Tariq Abdul-Wahad (Played just four games with Mavs after trade)
C Wang Zhizhi (5.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg in 55 games)
G Johnny Newman (Avg. 4.2 points in 47 games)
C Shawn Bradley (4.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 14.3 mpg)
F Danny Manning (Played just 41 games)
F/C Evan Eschmeyer (Played just 36 games)
G Charlie Bell (Played just two games with Mavs, seven overall)
G Tim Hardaway (9.6 ppg before deadline trade to Denver)
F Donnell Harvey (Played just 18 games)
G Darrick Martin (Played just three games)

*Source: Basketball-Reference.com



Dirk Nowitzki
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
ReboundsD. Nowitzki 6.2
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9