DALLAS — When 30,000 points came knocking, Dirk Nowitzki rose to the moment as he has countless times over the last two decades, notching 25 points and 11 rebounds in a 122-111 Mavericks win over the lowly Los Angeles Lakers.
The American Airlines Center hummed with a buzz unusual for a Tuesday night game in March against a lottery-bound opponent. Shortly after tip-off the hum emanating from the sea of gray t-shirts crescendoed into a playoff roar. The Big German needed 20 points to eclipse 30,000, but 20-point games don't come around quite as often as they used to for the sweet shooting seven footer. “Yeah, I didn’t like it,” said a self-deprecating Nowitzki on seeing the 30k shirts after shoot around.
The anticipation, while palpable and frantic, quickly evolved into the most exhilarating quarter ever played in the American Airlines Center. As Dirk knocked down his first two jumpers, the energy in the building elevated to an NBA-finals level. “There was just this buzz every time I touched the ball,” said Nowitzki. “Obviously everyone wanted it to happen today, and it kind of helped me focus.”
That focus crystalized into a blistering 6-7 start from the field for 18 points in the first quarter. Dirk started the night with an easy free-throw line jumper and a left wing three. You never quite know when greatness will rear its head for a 38-year old big man, but when Dirk launched a heat-check three with Tarik Black right in his chest, greatness appeared to be on its way.
“I made the first one, and it was a two,” Dirk explained. “And then the first three I was like, why not?” A Nowitzki heat check is unlike any other due to its rudimentary nature. Dirk’s height and catapult release allows him to take any shot at his leisure; a bad shot simply does not exist for Nowitzki. It’s less like a heat check and more like taking the governor off a sports car. Dirk normally regulates his shot selection, but in his pursuit of 30k, he let the chopper fly.
The absolute brilliance of Nowitzki was on display once more. His “flare for the moment” as Rick Carlisle referred to it, has always been an overlooked aspect of Dirk’s game. The preternatural feel for an oncoming moment combined with the supernatural skill to rise above that moment are signature attributes of Dirk’s greatness.
His performance last night was reminiscent of his 40-point game in Game 4 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals, when the Mavericks faced a 15-point deficit with a little over five minutes remaining and Dirk dragged Dallas to overtime and an eventual 3-1 series lead.
Dirk had no business winning that game in 2011, and a 38-year old Nowitzki had no business scoring 18 points in the first quarter of a game. But that’s what greatness does: it shows up where it’s not supposed to. It’s a characteristic that Rick Carlisle gushed about in reverent tones after the performance.
“This is a generational player and an uncommon human being.”