Dirk Nowitzki delivers in the clutch
Feeding the big German proves to be simplest cure to Mavericks' crunch-time woes
Just look at the past two nights.
Dallas let a win get away in Oklahoma City when its MVP, who had drilled a flurry of four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, got only one shot as the Mavs went scoreless in the final two minutes. Jason Terry, Nowitzki's longtime clutch sidekick, missed contested jumpers on the two most critical possessions of the 95-91 loss.
"I think we all felt the same way as the fans," point guard Jason Kidd said. "With 40 seconds, he's got to touch the ball at least twice, and he doesn't. That's on us as his teammates. He's got to touch the ball at some point."
There was no doubt the Mavs were going to Nowitzki when they desperately needed buckets during Tuesday's 95-85 win over the New York Knicks at the American Airlines Center.
Just in case, however, Nowitzki made the decision simple. He repeatedly ran toward the ball after New York's 15-0 run gave the Knicks the lead with a little less than five minutes remaining and hollered clear, simple instructions to his future Hall of Fame point guard.
"Just bring it over here," Nowitzki said. "Let me try to take it home."
That's exactly what he did, scoring 11 of his game-high 28 points in the final 4:34.
The Mavs regained the lead for good on Nowitzki's midrange fadeaway, Dallas' first points of the fourth quarter. He followed that up by hitting a pair of free throws on each of the next two possessions. Kidd's 3-pointer stretched the Mavs' lead to eight, and then Nowitzki hit the dagger, a high-degree-of-difficulty, off-the-dribble, 6-foot, one-legged leanaway over Amare Stoudemire with 2:28 remaining.
The Knicks wanted a whistle for walking, prompting a Tyson Chandler technical foul (another point for Nowitzki) and some postgame complaints, but the shot was a thing of awkward beauty from the most uniquely skilled 7-footer in NBA history.
It also was further evidence of the killer instinct Nowitzki has developed in the latter half of his career, something the world didn't fully appreciate until he kept hitting clutch shots to key crazy comebacks during the Mavs' championship run last season. He was so fired up after swishing the shot over Stoudemire that he almost tore the arm off while high-fiving a courtside-sitting kid, who happened to be Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' grandson.
And Dirk wasn't done yet.
The finishing touch on this phenomenal performance was an 18-foot fadeaway over Chandler on an isolation play. That shot kind of brought the night full circle; the ex-Mavericks big man received his championship ring before the game and got a final-minute, in-your-face reminder of the primary reason that title run was possible.
"That's what he does," Kidd said of Nowitzki, who scored 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the second half after struggling mightily during a four-point, 1-of-8 first half. "I mean, we have all seen it for years."
Kidd and Terry also are proven clutch performers, but they're complementary pieces. Their opportunities when the game is on the line need to come because of defenses' reactions to the big German.
It made you wonder why we haven't seen it more often this season, at least since Nowitzki got over a sore knee and into shape that's normal by his standards.
Dallas has dominated in close games for the past few years, in large part because of Nowitzki's clutch excellence, but the Mavs have been mediocre in those situations this season. And they had been awful lately, losing four games by five or fewer points during their 1-5 skid entering Tuesday night.
Why can't the Mavs just get the ball to Dirk and let him go to work every time it's tight down the stretch?
"Well, I'm old," the 33-year-old cracked. "I mean, I can't do it 66 times in basically 67 nights."
That's OK, as long as he can do it during the playoffs again.
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.