The Dallas Mavericks had fought all season to get to this point. They had their hated rivals the San Antonio Spurs up against the ropes. With a 20-point lead, it appeared the Mavericks would be heading to the franchise's third Western Conference Finals. Then it all began to unravel.
The Mavericks began giving up uncontested shots to the Spurs, letting Manu Ginobli drive to the basket with nary a defender challenging. The lead was dwindling. All of a sudden the Mavericks seemed destined to squander away maybe their best chance to ever win a title. And when Manu Ginobli knocked down a three pointer to give the Spurs their first lead since the beginning of the game, all Mark Cuban could do was hang his head in disgust. The basketball gods looked determined to break Mavs fans heart's once again. But Dirk Nowitzki had other ideas.
Down three, the Mavericks needed to knock down a three or get three the old fashioned way. If they missed and were unable to get an offensive rebound, their season would likely be over. Nowitzki received the ball at the three point line and utilized the back-down spin move he perfected over the regular season. He got an angle on Bruce Bowen, and for a second it seemed he might pull up for a jumper. A miss would have left the Mavs with a very long summer. Instead of settling for what the defense was going to give him, as he did near the end of their loss in Game 6, Nowitzki put his head down and drove to the basket. He got three the old-fashioned way. And the rest is history.
Rarely does a player have the opportunity on one play to define his career. For years people have given the 7-foot German proper respect for his outside shot, but the rap on Dirk was that he could not take smaller guys off the dribble or get to the glass enough. He was not tough enough. He was not a true franchise guy. He was not a leader.
He put that argument to bed in Game 7 against the Spurs, and in Game 5 against the Phoenix Suns, he turned out the lights. Nowitzki dropped a Mavericks' franchise best 50 points on the Suns Thursday night after an abysmal performance in Game 4. But instead of giving into the pressure or criticism following the Mavericks' loss, he fed off of it. He came out before Game 5 and said that he would not be the same player as two nights before. And from the opening tip it was clear he was prepared to back up his words. Even after a shaky start to his shooting Thursday night, Nowitzki refused to back off his mission to carry his team to victory. And every time the Suns made a run, as the inevitably do, Nowitzki was there with an answer. In the fourth quarter, where the Mavericks had previously been worn down by the speed and resiliency of the Suns, Nowitzki took over the game, willing his team to victory with an offensive outburst in which he scored 24 of 34 for Maverick points.
That is toughness and heart and leadership. He did it from inside and outside, on the glass and at the foul line. Nowitzki would not be denied, at that is the sign of true greatness. There can be no questioning any of his talent or his heart. Steve Nash may be the MVP of the league, but the playoffs have made it quite clear who the franchise player in this series is. The Suns may not have an answer for Nowitzki, nobody seems to, and that could end up eventually making Dirk the first foreign-born MVP in the history of the NBA Finals.
Article by Oddsboard Expert Kurt Poway