Commentary

Dirk Nowitzki one of NBA's best closers

Versatile All-Star comes through again in the clutch as Mavericks close out Clippers

Updated: February 16, 2012, 11:11 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

Right now, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are the NBA's best closers.

Don't even try to debate it.

Seriously.

Dirk proved it again Monday night during the Dallas Mavericks' 96-92 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

For three quarters, he struggled with his shot. And at the free throw line. When the fourth quarter began, the Mavs trailed 76-74 and Dirk had scored just 11 points, while making 3 of 8 field goal attempts.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireDirk Nowitzki scored 11 of his 22 points against the Clippers in the fourth quarter, when the Mavericks needed him most.
He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and made his most important baskets when the Mavs needed them most.

Trailing 83-79 with 6:03 left, Dirk drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing with a hand in his face. A minute later, the Clippers fouled him on a three-point attempt, and he made two free throws as the Mavs took a 84-83 lead.

The Mavs never trailed again.

The Clippers pulled within 90-89 with a minute left, and Dirk answered with a 19-foot jumper from the right wing with 41 seconds left.

"I played with Larry Bird for three years and there were nights he'd go 2-for-13 and hit the last three shots to win the game," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Dirk's the same kind of guy.

"One thing he's done better and better as his career has gone on is that he just keeps playing. He doesn't get frustrated. He lets the game come to him, and he attacks. Dirk's one of the best ever. He's not going to miss shots forever."

In the past three games, the Mavs have faced three of the Western Conference's best power forwards.

Kevin Love. LaMarcus Aldridge. Blake Griffin.

Each of them will be playing in the All-Star game later this month. All those games proved is that Nowitzki remains the conference's best power forward.

Easily.

The Mavs won each of the games, with Dirk averaging 25.0 points per game.

Obviously, those young guys have closed the gap, but Dirk is more versatile offensively, and he's done it in the postseason.

Since the 2007 debacle against Golden State, when the Mavs became the first No. 1 seed to lose a best-of-seven playoff series to a No. 8 seed, Dirk has averaged more than 26.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in the playoffs.

Last season, he averaged 27.7 points in the postseason, and he was at his best in the fourth quarter.

In 21 playoff games, Dirk scored in double figures 12 times in the fourth quarter.

Who can forget his 10 points in the fourth quarter of Game 6 against Miami? Or his 16-point fourth quarter in Game 2 against Oklahoma City?

We could go on and on, but Dirk hasn't always been among the game's best closers. At one time, he wasn't even the best closer on the Mavs.

He'd defer to Michael Finley. Or Steve Nash.

But as the Mavs have become his team, he's worked hard in the offseason to add facets to his game, enabling him to close games out.

What separates Dirk from Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin is that his game is so versatile, it makes him unstoppable.

Just so you know, when you're comparing terrific players, you have to nitpick.

Love lacks a mid-range game. Aldridge doesn't shoot 3-pointers. Neither does Griffin, who's also awful at the free throw line.

On Monday, Griffin finished with 20 points, clanged five consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter and didn't want the ball. Can you blame him, since he shoots 53 percent from the free throw line?

Dirk, though, has an unstoppable one-legged, step-back fadeaway as the foundation of his mid-range game. He can make the 3-pointer, and he can drive -- left or right -- to the bucket when defenders choose to guard him tightly at the free throw line.

He's nearly a 90 percent free throw shooter.

Unstoppable.

Dirk has honed his game over the years, so he plays with a confidence few others have.

There's not really much difference in his mind between the first quarter and the fourth quarter. He knows that if he gets to his sweet spot, the ball is going in the basket.

He also knows that if he moves without the ball and cuts hard, no defender can stop him from getting to his sweet spot.

"As a shooter, you have to believe it's going in. You have to keep letting it fly," Dirk said. "I know if I can get to my sweet spot, I can get my shot off.

"It comes with experience. It comes with hard work over the years. It comes with confidence."

That's why he and Kobe are the game's best closers.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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