Friday, June 3, 2011
Dirk Nowitzki points fortunes Mavs' way
By Jeff Caplan ESPNDallas.com
MIAMI -- Freeze the frame at the split-second the basketball floats off the tip of Dirk Nowitzki's left middle finger, the one with the torn tendon and the splint taped to the back of it, and put it on a poster.
Nowitzki doesn't posterize anyone in living color with monstrous rim-rattlers. But ask Chris Bosh if it feels any less demoralizing to be beaten by Nowitzki's drive and devastatingly soft lefty layup off the glass that completed the Dallas Mavericks' unbelievable 95-93 comeback win in Game 2 and evened the NBA Finals.
Dirk Nowitzki was having an off-night in Game 2 before having a hand in 14 points in the Mavs closing 22-5 run.
At the top of the key, the 7-foot Nowitzki faced the 6-11 Bosh, for once with no double-team coming. He wound up his endlessly long legs and shot by Bosh to his favored left side, exactly where Bosh had to know he was headed, where he always goes.
"He does a move that he always does," Bosh said. "I got caught up in trying to cut off his drive and that's what he wanted. For a split-second, I just played bad defense."
Nowitzki said he put the ball on the floor a few seconds before he actually would have because the Miami Heat had a foul to give and he was certain they would take some ticks off the clock and take the foul.
"The foul," Nowitzki said, "never came."
Nowitzki's left hand gave the basketball a couple of dribbles as he galloped into the lane and homed in on his target. He outstretched his left arm and the basketball gently rolled off his fingertips with Bosh desperately flailing at him from behind and Udonis Haslem coming to help, but helpless to make a play.
With 3.6 seconds left in yet another wild Mavs fourth-quarter comeback, the ball kissed glass and dropped in for his ninth consecutive point in the final 2:44.
Otherwise, Nowitzki was having a forgettable night. His shot wasn't falling again after going 7-of-18 in Game 1. He had three baskets on 10 attempts at halftime Thursday. With 7:41 left in the game he threw the ball away to Dwyane Wade, who was punishing Dallas all game, for his fifth turnover. It gave Wade two free throws and the Heat an 85-73 lead.
Then Wade's 3-pointer for an 88-73 lead with 7:14 left launched a premature Miami conga line celebration.
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Out of a timeout, Nowitzki fed ice-cold Jason Terry, who finally nailed a jumper as he breathed easier with Mario Chalmers and not LeBron James guarding him. From there, Nowitzki took over, having a hand in 14 points during Dallas' 22-5 closeout.
"Unbelievable," Terry said. "I don't know how the finger felt, but I know he didn't care. He was going to do whatever it took for us to get the win."
Nowitzki's 19-foot jumper made it 90-88. Marion fed him for an easy left layup to make it 90-90 and on the next possession he buried a 3-pointer and raised three fingers in the air as Dallas had its first lead of the second half.
After Chalmers got free in the corner for a game-tying 3-pointer with 24.5 to go, Nowitzki sealed it with his left hand and ruined Wade's 36-point night. Nowitzki finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
"Dirk is the kind of guy that is going to be persistent and we're going to keep going to him. No matter what they try to do, we're going to keep going to him," Mavs center Tyson Chandler said. "We know eventually they're going to wear down because they're spending a lot of energy trying to keep him out of the game."
Whatever Nowitzki was feeling at the time, pain wasn't it. Nowitzki said he felt none in a finger that threatened to rob the right-hander of his lefty brilliance.
"Look," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, "I played with [Larry] Bird for three years when he was the best in the world. Guys like that don't feel pain right now."
Bird recently went on record that he felt honored to be compared to Nowitzki and wished him well on this mission that is now somehow three wins away after it appeared to be slipping away.
The Heat had a stranglehold on the game and threatened to head to Dallas with a chance to squeeze the life out of Nowitzki and the Mavs.
Yet as they did in Los Angeles and in Oklahoma City and now in Miami, Nowitzki just won't let his team fade away anymore.
"No man, Dirk's a warrior," Dallas guard DeShawn Stevenson said. "I've been on this team for a year-and-a-half and I never seen nothing like it. He's a true warrior. To hit a game-winner on that torn finger, to play the way he played with that torn finger, with people slapping on him, says a lot about him and what he does."
What he does is go left, torn tendon and all.
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.