(7) 2011 Finals, Game 4 vs. Miami
Three shots to open the game, three makes. Dirk was fine, wasn't he?
Ah contraire -- this is Nowitzki's vaunted sick game. With a flu before the game and raging 100 degree temperatures, he was dragging hard. The TV camera found him wrapped in towels as often as it could on the sidelines. He played through the second and third quarters, but it wasn't pretty. His shuffles up and down the court each possession looked like he was waist-deep in the ocean. His almost-vacant eyes showed that he was barely hanging on.
All that and he finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds. 10 of the points came in the fourth quarter, including a spinning layup off glass that just beat Dwyane Wade's outstretched arms. LeBron James, best player on the planet playing with regular body temperatures, had eight points -- for the game.
(10) 2001 first round, Game 5 vs. Utah
When I think about moments that encapsulate why people become sports fans, I am drawn to this game.
2001 in basketball years might as well be the Mesozoic Era, but what a great time it was to be Mavericks fan. The Mavs had been *the* clown organization of the NBA in the 1990's; they were the decade's losingest team and just as there seemed to be some glimmer of hope -- in the form of the Three J's -- injuries and reality TV level absurdity conspired to tear it all down before it even began.
From the ashes of that saga, however, came something better. Jason Kidd was traded to the Phoenix Suns for a young swingman named Michael Finley, who would become the first member of a new trio for the Mavs. In 2001, with Finley, point guard Steve Nash and this really tall awkward looking Euro who maybe -- just maybe -- might be one day as good as Detlef Schrempf, the Mavs earned their first playoff appearance in 11 years. As a young Dallas fan I had never known anything but the laughable Mavs, so this was all very new and exciting for me. Just seeing the Mavericks in the playoffs was, honestly, probably enough at that point.
And that was all I was going to get, or so it seemed. In the deciding game 5(yeah, back then it was best of 5 in the first round) the savvy, ultra-experienced Utah Jazz led by 15 points at halftime and 14 heading into the final period. Michael Finley had been heroically doing his best to keep the Mavs in it, but the rest of the high-powered Dallas offense had been sputtering to that point, and it appeared that the young usptart Dallas team would have to wait until next year to get their first playoff series win. After all, this was the Jazz team led by Karl Malone and John Stockton. They weren't going to let a big lead against the baby-faced Mavericks just go away.
It happened so quickly that it was hard to even appreciate it. Dallas rattled off 12 unanswered points in three minutes, with a Finley slam cutting the lead to a single basket. Could the Mavs actually win this game?
That set the stage for maybe the unlikeliest Mav hero ever: Calvin Booth. Booth was an unheralded second year player acquired at midseason from the Wizards. He played by far the best basketball of his career in that brief stretch with Dallas, leaving the next season to go on to a lengthy run as a NBA journeyman.
It started with Michael Finley posting up Stockton on the right elbow. Finley had the height advantage, and already led all scorers with 33 points, so Utah naturally doubled. Booth slipped underneath the basket, coming up open on the baseline, and Finley hit him with a good pass. Karl Malone came over to help, but instead of trying to contest, went for the strip, and whiffed. Booth rose up for a fairly easy bank shot, and with seconds left Dalls claimed their first lead since the score read 3-2. It was Booth's only field goal of the night.
After the Mailman missed a long two on a broken final possession for the Jazz, Dallas celebrated and Dirk Nowitzki ran down the court like a crazy man. It felt like the beginning of something truly special.