Dirk Nowitzki had two points at halftime. He'd only taken three shots. He's 36 now, and maybe the size and physicality of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph was just too much for him. Maybe it just wasn't his night.
Then he scored the final eight points of the game to close out Memphis on the road in a 103-95 win, notching Dallas their best win of the year and first real one against a Western Conference playoff opponent (they previously beat the Spurs who rested five players). Yeah, no, Dirk is forever. This was just a gentle reminder.
The takeover started just a couple minutes into the third quarter. Dirk hit a simple 15-foot jumper and followed it up with a vintage 4-point play. Later in the quarter, he ended a 6-0 Grizzlies run with another long ball.
Memphis was feisty and the Gasol and Randolph combination was hard to deal with all night, but they trailed the entire second half until a Mike Conley 3-pointer found its mark with 4:01 to play. Suddenly, Dallas found themselves down 91-89 and on the verge of a demoralizing loss to a team they had on their heels.
But the Mavs didn't stop there. Rajon Rondo hit a floater and Monta Ellis retook the lead with a fadeaway jump shot on the baseline. Another Rondo jumper gave Dallas a four-point lead, setting the stage for Dirk to seal the deal.
The Mavericks' superstar has been in a prolonged slump since December, but maybe this game signaled a beginning of the end for that nonsense, because Dirk did everything we're accustom to see him do his whole career. He knocked down a one-legged fadeaway with his foot firmly planted on the elbow. On the next play, he threw his tendencies in the air on a roll to the rim. If that layup didn't seal the deal, his falling jumper out of the post the next possession did.
Dirk finished with 21 points on 13 shots, having the game we've been waiting for. Dallas couldn't have won without him.
In the first quarter that was rather sluggish, Devin Harris sparked the Mavericks. He hit his first four shots, including a 3-pointer, leading Dallas to a 25-16 lead after 12 minutes.
Dirk Nowitzki made a elbow jumper off a pindown screen early in the second in what would end up being his only points of the first half. The Mavericks offense spread the ball all around, though, getting an Al-Farouq Aminu driving 3-point play, among other things.
Jeff Green had a successful quarter with nine points while playing all 12 minutes, but the Mavericks hung right there with the Grizzlies for a 53-46 halftime lead.
On Dec. 9, the Dallas Mavericks came out of the Memphis locker room at halftime feeling good about a 62-56 lead. It didn't last -- the Grizzlies crushed Dallas in the third quarter, outscoring them by 19 and eventually winning 114-105.
But thanks to Dirk and other key contributors, the Mavericks avoided that all too familiar ending.
- Tyson Chandler had to come huge against the Grizzlies front court and did. He played a team-high 40 minutes -- also the most he's played in a regulation game this year -- with 10 points and 16 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass with constant tip outs to his teammates. He saved possessions and dealt with the Memphis behemoths in a manner no one else on the roster was suited to do. Games like this makes you wonder who New York ever gave him up for Jose Calderon and change, but then you just smile and shrug because who cares. He's here now.
- Chandler Parsons' best game of the year came against Memphis in that December loss, but he was mostly horrid on Monday. Give him credit for three important 3-point makes, but he did strange things inside of the arc (passing up jumpers or driving straight into traffic) and throwing his body around defensively with no real motive. Such is the life of an inconsistent player.
- Dwight Powell didn't make a shot but scored three points off free throws (one on a Marc Gasol block that was very nearly a charge). Still, he made some plays and certainly did much better than Greg Smith, who had a bad 57 seconds of court time. The back-to-back Denver games was Powell playing at just about his best, but he doesn't need to make three straight jump shots or drive past a defender for a dunk to be an impact big on this team for as long as they need him to be.
- Even though wins against playoff teams in conference don't mean much when they turn to a seven-game series, it still feels good to earn one. Dallas needed confirmation that they could stick with a team like that, and even if they didn't, the fans definitely did. To do it in front of a fantastic Memphis crowd with a vintage Nowitzki is even better.