Posted Jun 13 2011 12:53AM
MIAMI -- Dirk Nowitzki had taken 12 shots, missed 11. He was -- for a shooter, for a scorer, for a leader -- having a nightmarish offensive game.
And since he and his Dallas Mavericks had mentally framed Game 6 as their Game 7, with a championship on the line not across 72 hours but right now, right then, Nowitzki could not have picked a worse time to suffer through a horrible, potentially crushing half of basketball.
OK, OK, Dallas actually was in front at that point, 53-51. So it wasn't a worst-case scenario, just a bad-case scenario. Especially if Nowitzki's just-off-the-mark shots kept missing, if the Miami Heat found their rhythm or (yikes) both.
His pal, Steve Nash, had Tweeted in the afternoon that he sensed a "monster" game from Nowitzki, and he wasn't far off. His many misfires were scaring small children.
"It was weird," Nowitzki said. "I had so many good looks. I can't even explain it. I had some threes, top of the key. I had a wide-open three in the corner. I had some pull-ups. I had some one-leg fadeaways that I normally make.
"The team always told me, 'Stay with it. Stay with it. You're too good of a shooter, too good of a player to keep missing.' "
Nowitzki isn't LeBron James, a player versatile enough or self-conscious enough -- you be the judge -- to turn away from his duties as a scorer. He did what shooters do and kept shooting. He drained a 17-footer 12 seconds after halftime. He hit a pull-up bank shot on the break minutes later. He splashed a 3-pointer that made it 71-65 with 5:08 left in the third.
And that was it: Nowitzki shot 8-of-15 in the second half, scored 18 points to match James (10) and Dwyane Wade (eight) and carried the Mavericks to their 105-95 victory over Miami at AmericanAirlines Arena on Sunday for the first NBA championship in team history. The 7-foot German marksman carried the Mavs the way he carried them the whole series, through the playoffs, all year long and for most of his 13-year NBA career.
Nowitzki averaged 26.0 points and 9.7 rebounds in the six-game Finals and, on top of the ring that he so craved, earned the Bill Russell Award as the Finals Most Valuable Player. In a 9-0 vote by a media panel, Nowitzki won the individual honor by hitting the biggest Dallas baskets in Games 2 and 4, by scoring 34 points in Game 3, by making 97.8 percent of his free throws and 36.8 percent of his 3-pointers.
The Larry O'Brien Trophy, of course, meant more to Nowitzki, who had come within two victories of a title in 2006 and seemed headed for the NBA's awkward list of superstars and regular-season MVPs who never won a ring.
"If you're in the league for 13 years of just battling and playoffs basically [the last] 10 years, 11 years, and always coming up a little short ... that's why this is extra special," he said. "If I would have won one early in my career, maybe I would have never put all the work and the time in that I have over the last 13 years."
It wasn't lost on Nowitzki that each of the 15 players on the Dallas roster earned their first championship rings together. It wasn't lost on them that Nowitzki was the primary reason why.
"Dirk has huge resolve," said Jason Terry, the Mavs' sixth man who led them with 27 points in the clincher. "Regardless of what people say about him, he's going to come to the gym every day and prepare the same way. He's been doing it for so long and he still doesn't get the credit that he deserves. What he's able to do at his size, at his height, you haven't seen this before.
"What set him apart from all those other years, he made his teammates better. We look back on this whole year and what we've accomplished, you're going to look at Dirk Nowitzki's performance, you're going to look at the numbers. But what he meant to Shawn Marion, to Tyson Chandler, to myself, to Jason Kidd, to J.J. Barea, making us raise our [games] to another level. That's when you have a superstar. And that's when you have a Hall of Famer."
Said Nowitzki of the leadership that earned him the regular-season MVP in 2007 and this latest one now: "At the beginning I had some problems with the leaderhip role and talking. But over the last couple of years, I think I've been more comfortable. Obviously my English is a lot better than it was."
Terry was the teammate Sunday who helped snap Nowitzki out of his shooting slump, with a prodding that only he could provide. Terry and Nowitzki, remember, are the only two Dallas players left from the team that lost in The Finals five years ago.
Terry's simple message: "'05-06."
"I don't know what it did, but after that he got hot," the guard said.
Nowitzki got hot, got hardware, got it all.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called him "one of the most indefensible players in this league."
"And now he's seen every single coverage he can possibly see,'' Spoelstra said.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle reached back to his days with the 1980s Boston Celtics. "I played with Larry Bird, I played with Bill Walton, I played with Robert Parish, I played with Dennis Johnson," said Carlisle, who also played with fifth Hall-of-Famer Kevin McHale. "I played with the all-time greats. And Dirk is up there with that upper, upper echelon of great players."
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