Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Updated: November 5, 9:45 AM ET
Fourth-quarter spark sets club record
By Tim MacMahon
DALLAS -- The standing ovation started with a few minutes remaining in the game and continued until Dirk Nowitzki disappeared into the tunnel.
There had been scattered boos from the sellout crowd earlier Tuesday night as frustration mounted during three miserable offensive quarters. But Nowitzki made the fans forget about that with the most spectacular dozen minutes in franchise history.
His 29 points in the final frame broke a 25-year-old team record for scoring in a quarter. It turned a 15-point deficit at the start of the fourth into a 96-85 win over the Utah Jazz. It was an amazing performance that left a lot of the 19,725 folks who packed the American Airlines Center in awe, although there was one notable exception.
"The first three quarters had been pretty awful," huffed Holger Geschwindner, Nowitzki's longtime coach and mentor who is making his usual early-season visit from Germany. "He had to catch up somehow."
We had to get something going. Once I made a couple of shots and got to the line some, the ball was just finding me somehow.
-- Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki caught up with a remarkable display of determination and efficiency.
Through three quarters, Nowitzki had misfired on all but five of his 14 shots from the floor. And the rest of the Mavericks were even worse, as Dallas' freezing shooting (31.9 percent) allowed the Jazz to build the big lead.
Then, a couple of minutes into the fourth quarter, Dirk went to work.
"We just looked for a spark there," said Nowitzki, who stuffed the box score with 40 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and two steals. "We had to get something going. Once I made a couple of shots and got to the line some, the ball was just finding me somehow.
"Just make something happen. If I wasn't going to get hot, we were going to lose anyway, so I might as well try to make some stuff happen."
He did most of the damage on drives, attacking Mehmet Okur, Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko off the dribble. Nowitzki found his rhythm with a couple of trips to the line, which became a theme throughout the comeback. He made all 14 of his free throw attempts in the fourth.
"Anytime we touched him, they called a foul," Boozer griped, "so not too much you can do when you can't be physical with somebody."
Especially with somebody as skilled as the 7-foot finesse power forward, who made seven of his eight field goals in the quarter.
Four of his buckets down the stretch came on an assortment of layups, including a couple of and-1s. He knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner. He hit a pair of short jumpers, including a one-legged lean-away off a drive to his left.
"If he's using his tool box all the time, then he's in pretty good shape," said Geschwindner, who was perturbed that Nowitzki settled for jumpers most of the night. "But he just relies most of the time on one tool. That's where he has a name as a soft guy who can shoot the ball."
There certainly wasn't anything soft about Nowitzki seizing control of this game.
The Mavericks slammed the door on the Jazz with a 36-9 flurry over the final 8:17. Nowitzki had 25 points during that span, which is one more than Mark Aguirre's franchise record for points in a quarter set in 1984.
He also had a pair of assists, the second of which was a drive-and-dish to Jason Kidd for the dagger 3, a play the big German celebrated with a goofy tongue-wagging gesture.
"The big thing is Dirk is a competitor," said Kidd, who had 19 points and six assists. "You could just see, 'Hey, jump on my back and let's go for a ride.' And he got going."
Nevertheless, Nowitzki knew a harsh critique was coming from Geschwindner. His Mavericks mentors, on the other hand, gushed with praise.
Owner Mark Cuban called it the most impressive regular-season performance of the former MVP's 11-year career. Coach Rick Carlisle compared it to the finest efforts of Hall of Famers.
"I put it up with a lot of stuff that [Larry] Bird pulled off and some of those all-time greats," said Carlisle, a former Boston Celtic. "It was phenomenal, just phenomenal. The rest of the guys, they knew where to get the ball and how to feed off of him. It was something to behold."
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.