"There can be no true despair without hope."
That's what the opening moments of the fourth quarter felt like. That's what this entire Mavericks season has felt like. It's easy to get over a team that keeps losing. You can give up on them and go on with whatever you're doing. But this team came back, they gave us hope.
That's why the opening minutes of the fourth quarter hurt so much. There was so much hope after the Mavericks thrilling OT-win against the Clippers on Tuesday. It was squashed on Thursday. It rose up again during the final five minutes of the third quarter this Saturday afternoon.
But surely, the Mavericks season wouldn't end like this? Behind Nate Robinson bouncing around the court, holding up three-signs, dancing and raining back-breaking jumpers. Behind a Bulls team anemic on offense shredding up the Mavs defense as if it were playing in Sacramento.
When Robinson poured in his seventh three-pointer, the one where he rose up five feet behind the three-point line and drilled it at the end of the shot clock, it felt over. The game, the season, the beards. Another brilliant Dirk Nowitzki game and season wasted.
Dirk wasn't ready today. In past games, Dirk's ability to lift the Mavericks out of despair wasn't because of individual shortcomings -- it was because he didn't have a chance. He watched as Mike James or Vince Carter took those shots. Not today. Not anymore.
There was a definite effort to give Dirk the ball in the last moments of the fourth quarter. Carter would throw Dirk an entry pass, Dirk would kick it back out and Carter would enter the ball into Dirk again -- something that hasn't happened enough this season.
When Dirk missed a trailing three with the Mavs down 97-92, it was a momentary glimpse of a human Dirk. Of a Dirk that was hobbled for most of this year. It was a grim reminder that the Dirk we're seeing right now, in this month, is the true Dirk.
He then swished a corner three pointer (off a brilliant inbounds play), posted up and faded over Jimmy Butler then drilled the game-winning three pointer with less than three seconds remaining. He scored eight points in about a minute. He scored 15 in the fourth quarter.
He shot 14 of 17 from the floor. He banked in fading jumpers. He spotted up in transition. He scored 35 points. He was Dirk.
There are many other story lines contained in this game (Brandan Wright, O.J. Mayo's injury, the Mavericks awful defense) but it will always come down to Dirk. Nothing happens without Dirk.
That's the way it's been for over a decade. The Mavericks start and end with Dirk. Today, the Mavericks climbed out of the pit. Dirk climbed out of the pit. I'm not sure how badly the Mavericks will get crushed in a potential first-round matchup with the Spurs or Thunder. But I wouldn't want to play Dirk in the first round. Not the one from three months ago. This one. The one that just destroys double-digit leads with ease, one perfect jumper at a time.
Basketball is a complex sport with multiple points of analysis. We track player movements, lineups and shot selection more than ever before. Sometimes, a game comes along where we forget all that. When basketball is just a simple sport about who can make more shots. When that happens, having Dirk isn't fair. Suddenly, the Mavericks defensive and rebounding problems don't look so bad. They have Dirk right? How bad can it get? As long as there's Dirk, there's hope. As long as it was the Dirk from Saturday afternoon. The true Dirk.
This Mavericks season may still end up going no where. But don't tell Dirk that. He has some more games to win.
Party on, Mavs fans.