Immortality is not a gift, Immortality is an achievement; And only those who strive mightily Shall possess it. – Edgar Lee Masters
Dirk Nowitzki found himself in an unusual situation in the third quarter against the Nuggets on Monday night – he was wide open.
No defender hugging at his hip. No double or triple team. No small athletic forward trying to invade his airspace. No lumbering big man in the precarious position of trying to stay within Dirk's shooting range while also not being so close he would fall over his heels once Dirk begins a drive toward the hoop.
There was none of that, in this instance in the third quarter. Dirk was wide open after setting a pick for Jason Terry. He was so wide open, Dirk decided to bend his knees a little lower, spring up a little higher. The Denver crowd held its collective breath as their personal demon looked ready to haunt them yet again.
But it missed. It clanged around the rim, and the Nuggets grabbed the rebound. Denver fans exhaled. A couple of Nuggets players on the bench widened their eyes, knowing what they just missed.
Dirk Nowitzki was mortal. It would be one of the few times he showed it, that Monday night.
There have been more than a handful of explanations as to why Dirk hasn't been Dirk for a majority of the season. Logical ones such as out of shape, a dodgy knee and a lack of fire, passion and commitment after a long 2010-2011 season. Then the ignorant one like Dirk is done. Washed up. Through.
The idea of Dirk being "finished" never seemed a more far-fetched idea then on Monday night. As the game progressed it was more legitimate to start wondering how many times Dirk would hit the rim on his makes then whether how many few times he would miss at all.
It was precise. It was cold. It was Dirk.
One-legged fades against helpless young defenders if Kenneth Faried and Kosta Koufos. Toying with smaller athletic forward Wilson Chandler, the type of player that gave Dirk trouble...five years ago. The Nuggets apparently didn't get the memo.
He flashed his brilliant transition three pointer, where he trails late on the play. The beauty of the his transition three when the Mavericks are on the road is it's coming off a miss. So the home crowd is already slightly demoralized and a little upset. Then Dirk pulls up a good three feet beyond the arc and splashes down a three, ripping the nylon. From that point, from an opposing crowd's perspective, it's over. Just throw up your hands and hope it doesn't get any worse.
Even with the familiar game, Dirk still managed to sneak in some new wrinkles. He threw up some running hooks, something Dallas fans have begged him to do against smaller defenders for years. Those outcries have drowned out progressively since the Mavericks ousting of the playoffs in 2007, but every so often, Dirk appeases them, pulling off a post move that is downright cheating for a seven footer with the perimeter skills that Dirk possess.
He also quelled another long Dirk myth – he can't handle double teams. Dirk crushed that foolish idea with pin-point passing in the first half, distributing the ball to open shooters and cutters for six assists. Dirk's court vision is so underrated, as he really has a knack for seeing a play happen before it happens, a staple of a quality point guard. Dirk by no means has the passing prowess or court vision as an All-Star point guard, but he has uncanny anticipation for his size. He knows where an open man is going to be before the double team has ever fully formed. It gave Brandan Wright a couple of easy scores and Jason Terry and Vince Carter some wide open threes.
That passing was key. Because once it was apparent double teams weren't going to break Dirk or the Mavericks offense, Nuggets coach George Karl called off the dogs, leaving Nowitzki to work one-on-one. From that point on, considering how well Dirk was shooting, the game was over. Karl might as well have waved a white flag once he stopped sending multiple defenders Dirk's way.
Dirk also showed another Dirk staple: humility. When posed a question to comment on his six first half assists, Dirk's immediate answer was he had zero in the second half. It harked back to the Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Thunder, when Dirk destroyed Oklahoma City's dreams with a backbreaking 40-point performance. When asked to comment on his night, the first thing out of Dirk's mouth? How he couldn't grab a damn rebound.
Dirk was humble before being humble was cool.
After finishing with 33 points on Monday night, Dirk is averaging 28.5 points in the Mavs four-game win streak. He's shot a minimum of six free throws in every game. He's also been very angry, very passionate. That mean mug Dirk flashed when dropping daggers in the 2011 playoffs has showed up again. Be careful, NBA. Dirk is back. Not like that was in any serious doubt to begin with.
And Dirk's 12 made field goals touched the rim a combined seven times on Monday. Not all of them were swishes.
Guess he's a mortal after all.