It was Caron Butler's contested 3-pointer with a second under two minutes remaining that put the Mavs up for good, after Dirk had kept them close enough for his shot to matter.
Up three, the Mavs would not score again, but held Denver to a single basket (a Carmelo Anthony put-back dunk) … and stole a win.
Dirk Nowitzki led all scorers with 35 points, including 13 in the final quarter, to stand on the stat sheet beside 13 rebounds, three assists and a steal.
When looking at individual player's performances, this was a game of halves for both teams.
In the first half, Gary Forbes (who?), Chauncey Billups and Arron Afflalo carried the Nuggets to a strong start by totaling 37 of Denver's 52 points, concealing a poor start for Carmelo Anthony, who began the game 1-of-8 from the floor in the face of continuous double teams and strong defense from a Caron Butler/Shawn Marion combination.
Meanwhile, Dallas seemed unaware of the fact that Denver was playing without Chris Andersen, Kenyon Martin and Nene Hilario as they settled for jump shot after jump shot and allowed the Nuggets to leap to an 8-2 early rebounding advantage.
For the Mavs, only three-and-a-half players appeared ready to play from the start. Dirk, put in 20 of his 35 points in the first half and grabbed nine rebounds. JJ Barea was energetic, and one of only four players with a positive plus/minus while making some key shots, and acting as the only player not named Dirk who attacked the rim with any consistency. Shawn Marion played impressive defense and added energy to the proceedings, though he did miss a couple of frustratingly easy baskets.
Tyson Chandler also played well, but had his minutes limited by foul trouble … making him the "half'' to go with the above three.
With mercy, the break between the halves was just long enough to sever any link between the second and third quarters … as Dallas would come out in the third, fueled by the shooting of Jason Terry, to go on a 16-6 run and take a quick lead that would build to as much as 11.
Terry would continue to impress in the quarter with 16 points, complimented by nine from Caron Butler.
For Denver, ‘Melo turned it on after the break on his way to 20 points, going 7-of-11 from the floor to erase his 1-of-8 shooting start (kinda) and adding 15 rebounds while spending a lot of time at power forward.
The fourth quarter brought the game back into Dirk's wheelhouse. When the Mavs got sloppy and Denver went on a 15-4 run to take a four point lead, it was Dirk who quickly scored six points in a row to give Dallas back the lead; 99-97.
On their next possession, ‘Melo tied the game back up at 99.
From there, the game crumbled into a defensively driven mess. Over the final two minutes of a tied game both teams combined to score only five points. Luckily for the Mavs, they took three of them when Caron Butler received a pass from Dirk and nailed a clutch, contested 3-pointer with 1:59 left on the clock.
"Tuff Juice" wasn't done there. With just over a minute remaining, he epitomized his tough reputation by muscling an offensive rebound away from ‘Melo. Though the Mavs would not score, this was a key play in the game … and where Butler was part of giving away the Memphis game, he was a key contributor to taking this one.
After Dirk uncharacteristically air-balled a left-baseline jumper with eight seconds remaining, Marion replaced him on the floor for the final defensive possession and played an integral role in its success … as he did just enough to force Anthony into a last-second miss, with Butler tipping up and away and offensive rebound chance Denver may have had.
*After us giving some heat to Barea before this game for his performance thus far, it must be noted that he was a key to what success the Mavs had in the first half … though this was solely due to his willingness to attack the rim and finish.
As evidenced by his zero assists, he did not get others involved. In the second half, Barea danced at the extremes, drawing key offensive fouls on Carmelo and Ty Lawson, while also delivering multiple turnovers or putting teammates in poor positions for success, such as giving the ball to Haywood in the final seconds of a shotclock and forcing Big Wood to play the goat and to shoot a 20-footer.
If you're keeping track of plus/minus, JJB tied with three others for the worst on the roster with a minus-4.
*Butler was ineffective or in the background for most of the first half. He settled for jump shots far too often against a defense featuring no shot blocking threats, though he wasn't alone.
Caron's turnaround in the second half, along with Jason Terry's, made the win possible and helped ensure another outstanding performance from Dirk was not for naught.
*There was an entertaining, and unfruitful for Dallas, sequence in the fourth quarter. Dirk flew around his man and went up hard for a powerful tomahawk dunk attempt … that hit the back of the rim and bounced all the way to the backcourt, where Jason Kidd collected it. This was immediately followed by a missed layup attempt from Caron Butler … and closed by a big Arron Afflalo dunk that got mostly listless crowd up and put Denver within one.
*After Dallas allowed the extremely undersized Nuggets to jump to an 8-2 rebounding advantage, they went on to grab 45 total rebounds, compared to Denver's 39.
*Dallas only had three players reach double digits: Dirk (35), Jason Terry (20 points, going 4-5 behind the arc, four assists and a steal) and Caron Butler (16 points on 7-14 shots and seven rebounds).
*Much like the final moments of the Denver game, Terry was again plagued by a couple of key mistakes late in this contest.
*Once again, and this is not a slight on Haywood: the Mavs looked like a different team when Tyson Chandler was on the court. His stats weren't bad, but don't tell the whole story. He finished with nine points, nine rebounds and a block … but he contested many more shots and played effective help defense throughout.
*The three game streak of holding opponents under 40% shooting has ended. Denver shot 46.1 percent. But somehow, it feels OK.