First Impressions: The Iconic Dirk In Boston
"It's a fun situation to be in," said Dirk Nowitzki, who before completing the three-point play the hard way had taken just 10 shots. "Everybody's looking at you and your team really depends on you, so I like to be in the position where I can make something happen."
This showdown between powers from the two conferences might've been expected to be about star power; after all, bursting from these contenders' rosters are five of the top 35 scorers in NBA history plus nine players (counting the sidelined Jason Kidd) with a combined 73 All-Star selections.
But Boston's quartet of standouts – Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen – were all involved in dubious plays that inspired the Dallas Mavericks' third straight win and dropped Boston to 4-5.
Pierce hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 85-all with 25 seconds remaining, but it was just one of his two made buckets on the night as he scored only seven. Garnett was the defender who was bedeviled on Nowitzki's right-handed dribble-drive to the basket (with the foul being assigned to ex-Mav Brandon Bass). And earlier KG was defending Dirk by bear-hugging him, an action that caused Dallas coach Rick Carlisle to march onto the floor and earn an ejection – leading to a 24-6 Dallas run.
"It's my opinion,'' Carlisle said after the game, "but Kevin Garnett shouldn't be allowed to bear-hug Dirk coming off the screen. I wanted to make my point. If it costs me a few thousand dollars so be it."
Boston did have a final chance, but botched it, too. Rondo (otherwise a force with 24 points) inexplicably tried to bounce-pass his inbounds toss to Allen. The Boston marksman failed to field the short-hop as the ball caromed harmlessly out of bounds, sealing the 6-5 Mavs' sixth win in eight games after the defending champs opened the year 0-3.
Said Garnett of how this qualifies as a Boston "team loss:'' "I don't play Dirk by myself, I play him with the other four guys out there on the floor," said Garnett. "We don't do anything individual other than shower here. Other than that, we do things together."
The Mavs have made their positive move together, too, despite the absence of Kidd, who has missed these three straight victories with a sore back. He's expected back for a weekend home stand against the Bucks and Kings. But in his stead, Dallas has relied on some efforts and results that aren't exactly part of the blueprint.
Delonte West, a former Celtic, handled the point guard position and despite some erratic moments, "Never stops competing,'' praised Carlisle.
Dallas' centers, Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi, combined for 17 points and 16 rebounds, once again matching the sort of output the team got from the center position last year when free-agent departee Tyson Chandler was the starter. Does Dallas miss Chandler's defense? One would assume so, until you see that the Mavs are allowing just 88.3 points per game in their last six.
Dallas employed little-used forward Brian Cardinal for just three minutes, but he was on the floor to finish on both the defensive and offensive ends. Conspicuous in his absence was Lamar Odom, the ex-Lakers star who contributed six points, two rebounds and two assists. Odom did make a momentum-grabbing 3-pointer, but played just 15 minutes. ... And it's about time for L.O. to have it explained to him that "too-cool-for-school'' isn't cutting it.
Dallas also struggled mightily from the free-throw line, an oddity for a team that for the last decade has been among the NBA's best. The Mavs made just 14-of-25 for the game and just 6-of-14 in the final quarter.
But it's in the fourth quarter when Jason Terry joins Nowitzki as two of the game's great closers.
"That's what we're about,'' Terry said of his belief that the Mavericks match their star power with resiliency. "We've got too much heart and too much courage to count out.''
Terry scored 18 in the game but seven in the final quarter. Dirk scored just 16 points (his lowest output in Boston), but nine in the fourth, leaving him three points shy of the 23,000-point milestone. Still, in the end, he continued to follow in the legendary footsteps of Celtics foes like Michael Jordan (career average at Boston: 32), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (30.7) and Wilt Chamberlain (29.8). He didn't reach his at-Boston average of 27.8; he just needed one gritty drive with five seconds left.
When the bear-hugs came unclinched and the buzzer had sounded, Garnett was complimentary.
"I just tried to make tough for him," said Garnett. "A player like Dirk, man, that man has like a million moves. I just tried to play the consistencies and just make it tough for him. He made a hell of a shot."
Meanwhile, predictably, The UberMan was humble.
"I was able to get to the rim,'' said Nowitzki, who demonstrated some playful color as he sat on the floor, post-foul, and wagged his tongue in the general direction of former teammate Bass. "I didn't even see the ball go in to be honest. I just threw it up there.''
And another iconic moment is born.