VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Dirk Nowitzki has been carrying Germany on his back at major international tournaments for the past decade. For once on Friday, his teammates came to his aid in crunch time and carried the load when it mattered most.
Beset by foul trouble, the Dallas Mavericks forward still had 19 points, including a number of key free throws in the closing minutes, as the Germans rolled Turkey 73-67 to keep alive their hopes of reaching the quarterfinals of EuroBasket -- and qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games.
They still might need to defeat host Lithuania on Sunday to advance. Having an opportunity, at least, was enough for Nowitzki, who is averaging 20 points and 6.3 rebounds in the tournament.
"We took the first step," the 33-year-old said. "It wasn't pretty but that doesn't matter. There was a lot of pressure on the line. We started off the game very slow. We only had six points after the first quarter, which wasn't really the start we were hoping for. But we kept battling.
"Our defense was solid all night. We hit some big shots down the stretch and took the game to them. It was definitely a big win."
Despite the rigors of a long NBA season that culminated in bringing the NBA championship to Dallas, the 10-time All-Star has been visibly enjoying his time in Lithuania, joking around with a bunch of teammates who grew up watching him on TV as he blazed a trail across the Atlantic.
During his career, there have been plenty of achievements to cherish in a German uniform: a bronze medal at the 2002 FIBA world championships in Indianapolis, plus a silver at the 2005 EuroBasket in Belgrade.
"It's always been great times and great memories," Nowitzki said.
But the country hasn't yet bred a natural successor for when its favorite son finally calls time on his national team career. Preparing the Germans to remain competitive in his absence has been another of his objectives this summer.
"We have some interesting challenges," Nowitzki said. "It's time for the younger players. It's been fun with the new guys. They want to learn. They want to play. They're all nice guys. They're great talents, so it's been fun.
"We've had some tough losses that we have to learn from and we used that today down the stretch."
One more win and there may be more lessons available. One more loss, and the final buzzer may sound on Nowitzki's global tour.
Mark Woods is a freelance writer based in Edinburgh, UK, whose work appears regularly in British publications.