PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 23: Dirk Nowitzki #41 and Jason Kidd #2 of the Dallas Mavericks walks off the floor against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 23, 2011 at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
The Mavericks are no strangers to controversial finishes in the playoffs, choking leads away and letting other players add historical performances to their growing legend while seemingly every call goes against them. I don't even need to mention Miami, because its obvious. However, the last time this happened was not actually the 2006 Finals, but the 2nd Round of 2009. Recall that Denver-Dallas showdown. After dropping the first two games in Denver, Dallas comes back home and plays Denver to a standstill, and actually lead by two late. With a foul to give, Antoine Wright intentionally fouled Carmelo Anthony, but the referees said he did not make enough contact, and Melo stepped up to swish a three from the left wing.
Controversial? Choke? Classic? Take your pick. It certainly reminds of the Finals, and also of Brandon Roy's miraculous fourth quarter Saturday evening. All the same factors are there.
Dirk knows that too. In Game 4 against the Nuggets, Dirk dragged that Mavericks team with his to the tune of 44 points on 25 shots, as he dueled Carmelo in the battle of the superstars. Here against Portland, Dirk has an added advantage: he's not down 0-3 anymore.
So far in this series, Dirk has clearly been the Mavericks leader. Everyone and their mother -- and their red-headed stepchild, just for good measure -- knows what Dirk can do offensively. He hits "jumpers", if indeed his off-balance, 45 degree fades that go twenty feet in the air before descending back to earth and falling through the rim can be limited to that term. Everyone also seemed to know what Dirk could do defensively...or at least they thought they did.
Here in the Mavericks-Blazers matchup, though, Dirk has been no where near the defensive liability he's often made out to be. There's physical limitations that Dirk has, but a lot of defense is just effort, and Dirk's giving everything he has on both ends. Nowitzki has been an underrated man defender for several years now, but his below average rotations and weak side defense have picked up so far in this series. He'll never be a defensive anchor, but he's not hurting the Mavericks on that end anymore.
Dirk's offense has trended the opposite way, unfortunately. He's had some big fourth quarters, he's had some ridiculous momentum changing and-1's, he's strung a couple buckets together here and there, but it still seems like he's not dominating in quarters 1-3 like Dirk usually tends to do. It seems almost sacrilegious to say anything of the sorts about the superstar who's the reasons the Mavericks did not win 20 games and who is averaging 27 points and 7 rebounds, but I'm not calling him out, just pointing out that he can play better. Honestly, that's a little bit scary, but Dirk no doubt agrees to.
After a career high 51.7% field goal percentage in the regular season, Dirk is shooting just 33/80 against Portland, about ten whole percentage points worse at 42%. Portland's defense has to be given credit for their great work on Dirk Nowitzki, but Dirk has faced tough defense before, and the reason he's already a Hall of Fame lock is that in the end, he's unstoppable.
Culminating in his 20 point, 2 rebound performance in Game 4, Dirk has definitely been stopped by Portland. So let me repeat: In the end, he's unstoppable. Combine all these factors, and hopefully Monday night is when Dirk decides to go off.