Sunday, March 17, 2013 Updated: March 18, 7:55 PM ET
Another opportunity missed
By Jean-Jacques Taylor ESPNDallas.com
Dirk Nowitzki made the first three shots he took in the second half against Oklahoma City on Sunday night, including a pair of 3-pointers. Nowitzki, who finished with a team-high 23 points on 10 shots for the Dallas Mavericks, took just two shots the rest of the game.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 23 points in Sunday's loss, but he didn't even attempt a shot in the game's last 14 minutes.
Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.
Nowitzki, one of the best to ever play in the NBA, did not take a shot in the fourth quarter. Actually, he didn't take a shot in the last 14:11 of the game. And he didn't make a shot in the last 20:11.
Blame coach Rick Carlisle for not calling plays designed to get him the ball. Blame starting point guard Mike James or backup point guard Darren Collison for not making sure Dirk took more shots.
Heck, they can each think about it all night, long after the Oklahoma City Thunder edged the Mavs 107-101 at American Airlines Center.
It was yet another close loss, the kind we've seen time and time again this season from the Mavs. It's the kind of loss that has defined the Mavs' season and has them four games under .500 with 16 games left in the season.
Even the staunchest MFFL -- Mavs Fan For Life -- must soon come to the realization that the Mavs' magical 12-year streak of making the playoffs is about to end.
The Mavs, who fell one-half game behind Portland into 10th place in the Western Conference, trail the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers by 3.5 games. Just so you know, eight of the Mavs' next nine games are against teams that would qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today.
This was a disappointing loss for the Mavs because they're no longer good enough to waste one of those nights when Dirk seems ready to turn in a vintage performance.
And that's where he seemed headed after he curled around a screen and hit a 21-foot jumper with 8:11 left in the third quarter. A minute later, another 3-pointer from beyond the key rimmed out. Then he missed another jumper from the wing with 2:25 left in the third quarter he missed a short jumper from the wing.
Dirk never took another shot.
"We didn't do a good job," coach Rick Carlisle said of getting Nowitzki the ball. "I'll take responsibility for it. A few times they fouled him before he could get a shot off so he got to the free throw line two or three times.
"When they get into all the switching and denying other guys have to step up and make plays and we weren't able to make plays."
Carlisle was being polite. So was Dirk.
"We didn't lose because of that," he said of not getting a shot in the fourth quarter. "Some of other games our offense was a problem. We just didn't get enough stops on defense."
They can spin it any way they choose. But there's not a defense Dirk hasn't seen in his career. Carlisle either. Teams have been switching defenders and trying to deny Dirk the ball forever. Jason Kidd always found a way to get him the ball in position to score. So did Jason Terry when he and Nowitzki ran one of the NBA's most lethal two-man games for years.
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James, a 37-year-old journeyman, and Collison, who's still learning the nuances of the position, just aren't good enough to consistently get Dirk the ball in position for him to score.
Or create open shots for others.
Look at the stat sheet and it'll reveal that James and Collison combined for 26 points and seven assists. It'll tell you they combined to make nine of 20 field goal attempts. But their top priority must be to run the offense and make sure a guy the offense runs through Nowtizki.
Finally, late in the fourth quarter, the Mavs beat Oklahoma City down the court and threw the ball to Dirk, who was fouled on consecutive possessions. He made each of his four free throw attempts and the score was tied at 101-101 with 1:20 left.
Trailing 103-101, James maneuvered into the lane. Now, all he needed to do was toss the ball out to Dirk, who was open and pounding his hands together at the 3-point line on the left wing.
Instead, James took the shot; Kevin Durant swatted it away.
Thirty-six seconds later, the game ended and Dirk walked off the court contemplating yet another wasted opportunity.