Dirk Nowitzki is a stone-cold killer.
Yeah, never thought I’d type that.
For the majority of his career, it has been difficult to take Dirk seriously. There are the silly aesthetics: the long mane of goldilocks hair, the mouth guard he chews on like it’s a pacifier, the funny German accent. Then there are the on-the-court issues. Dirk has been considered a soft, finesse player with a puzzling inability to deliver the goods in the postseason. In crunch-time situations, Nowitzki has the reputation of crumbling like dry German strudel.
There was the 2006 NBA Finals choke job. There was the MVP year in 2007 when his Mavs were humiliated by Golden State in the first round of the playoffs. Until this year, Dirk hadn’t made it out of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs three of the past four seasons.
That was then, and this is now. Dirk, at the ripe age of 32, has Dallas back in the Finals in a clash against the most talented team in the world. And you know what? He hasn’t backed down.
In Game 2, he led his team on a 15-point comeback, scoring the game-winner on a left-handed scoop shot — hurt finger and all — with four seconds left. It was so uncharacteristically Dirk, the player who had been at the center of a team with a historic propensity for soiling the bed sheets when the stakes are highest.
The Mavericks reaching the Finals this year has been nothing short of odds-defying. It is a roster made up of Dirk — the sweet-shooting, seven-foot giant — and a motley crew of specialists: shooters, stoppers, slashers and distributors. It is arguable that, in every postseason series this year, the Mavericks have been the least talented team each time they have taken the court.
OK, maybe not more talented than a depleted Portland team, but Dallas lacked the star power of the Lakers and the Thunder — two teams it beat in nine games total.
Without Nowitzki, who is averaging 28 points this postseason, the Mavericks are burnt toast.
He is shooting 50 percent from behind the arch, pulling down about eight rebounds a game and playing surprisingly good defense. He’s also shaken off questions about his toughness, playing with an injured finger and often getting to the line — in the first game of the OKC series, Dirk went 24-24 from the stripe. In a losing effort in game three against the Heat, Dirk came one shot short in the Mavs’ 88-86 loss. You can’t blame him too much. He had pulled Dallas out of a hole, scoring 12 straight points to tie the game before Chris Bosh bailed Miami out.
Long thought of as a poor man’s Larry Bird because of the skilled shooting and the obvious Caucasian similarities, Nowitzki is proving right now that he’s maybe good enough to be in a class by himself. He’s a bounce pass and a crossover away from Bird, and he’s not as proven of a winner. But, man, the things Dirk can do on the court — fall-away jumpers, one-legged floaters, spinning flip-shots — have never been seen before. Add to that his dedication to rebuilding his legacy and him dragging his team to an improbable storybook season, and I think we’re talking about Dirk Nowitzki as an all-time great.
Never thought I’d type that either.