With the Dallas Mavericks set to retire Dirk Nowitzki’s jersey on January 5th, the time seems right to look back on some of Dirk’s greatest playoff moments. The 2011 and 2006 finals runs are the moments most look back on as Dirk’s most impressive. However, the 2009 series versus the Denver Nuggets was one of Dirk’s best.
This series followed a series in which the 6th seeded Mavericks defeated the 3rd seeded Spurs in five games. The Mavericks faced off against the Nuggets, who were led by Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. Anthony was one of the greatest pure scoring talents the league has ever seen and had a fantastic series himself. Anthony averaged 30.0 points 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 60.5 percent true shooting. It was the second highest scoring series of his playoff career, but he could not match Dirk’s production.
Dirk averaged 34.4 points, 11.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists. He shot 53.4 percent from the floor, 38.5 percent from three and 91.9 percent from the free throw line. This was a 66.0 percent true shooting percentage. Dirk was the leading scorer and rebounder in every single game in this series. That is a level of production and consistency which is virtually unheard of.
The thing that makes the production even more impressive is the collection of potential “Dirk-stoppers” that the Nuggets had. Kenyon Martin was aging, but he was still very good and extremely physical, defensively. Nene Hilario was also a very versatile big who could move quite well. Chris “Birdman” Anderson was incredibly long and athletic. It didn’t matter. Dirk shredded them.
This series repeated several things which were trends throughout Dirk’s career. He had a duel with an all time talent at his peak. He put up ridiculous scoring numbers at historic efficiency levels. His supporting cast wasn’t good enough. And, unfortunately there was an officiating controversy.
No other player in NBA history has ever had a playoff series in which they average 30 points and 10 rebounds on 53 percent shooting from the floor, 38 percent shooting from three and 91 percent shooting from the line. The fact that no one else has ever done it, goes to show how historically unique Dirk was.
The other Mavericks simply weren’t good enough. Jason Terry was the second leading scorer for the Mavericks but he averaged 15.2 points per game and 2.4 assists on 53.3 percent true shooting. Contrast that with Chauncey Billups who averaged 21.6 points and 7.2 assists on 69.6 percent true shooting. J.R. Smith also badly outplayed Josh Howard who shot 1 for 15 from three in this series. It should surprise no one that watched the Mavericks during those times that $70 million man Erick Dampier did not contribute at all.
Finally, the officiating controversy does have to be discussed. The Mavericks lost the first two games in Denver but appeared to have a chance to win game three. The Mavericks were up two with a foul to give when Denver inbounded the ball with 6.5 seconds left. Antoine Wright intentionally fouled Anthony with 3.5 seconds left. Wright was not blameless in this scenario as he certainly could have been more forceful with the foul. But in a game in which 89 free throws were shot, the referee went temporarily blind. Anthony continued playing(as he should have) and hit an uncontested three to take the lead with one second left.
The officiating controversy is not why the Mavericks lost and no one else cares, but officiating controversies are an important part of Dirk’s career. All of that is over now, and we can simply look back on Dirk’s greatness and enjoy it. It does not get remembered this way, but this is some of the finest basketball Dirk ever played. So while you are watching old Dirk clips to brighten your days this week, remember to watch some of the 2009 series against the Nuggets.
We recorded a special Dirk Nowitzki centic podcast episode which you can listen to here. We’d also love if you subscribed to our pod, search Mavs Moneyball Podcast in your favorite app. Again, click here to listen or play on the embed below.