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. When people discuss one MVP caliber player dominating another MVP caliber player at their position, Hakeem Olajuwon’s destruction of David Robinson in 1995 is the most common example.
In that series, Olajuwon averaged 35.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.3 steals and 4.2 blocks per game. He shot 56 percent from the floor, 50 percent from three(1 for 2) and 80.6 percent from the free throw line. Robinson was held to 23.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.2 blocks per game on 44.9 percent shooting from the floor, 0 percent from three(0 for 2) and 77.5 percent from the free throw line.
The 2002 series between the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves contained another matchup of future MVPs that played the same position. In this series, Dirk Nowitzki was downright dominant. Dirk averaged 33.3 points, 15.7 rebounds, .7 assists, 3.0 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. Dirk had an absurd shooting line of 52.6 percent from the floor, 72.7 percent from 3(8 of 11) and 88.9 percent from the free throw line. Garnett averaged 24 points, 18.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. Garnett shot 42.9 percent from the field, 50 percent from three(1 of 2) and 71.9 percent from the free throw line.
Garnett had impressive counting numbers but they are not materially different from Robinson’s in his series versus Olajuwon. The reason for the reputation of dominance is because of the team’s victory and the offensive moves that Olajuwon displayed. Dirk’s Mavericks swept Garnett’s Timberwolves with an average margin of victory of 10.7 points per game.
Garnett apologists would tell you that the Mavericks had a ridiculous talent advantage outside of the two superstars and that is why the Mavericks won. The biggest problem with this, is that the rosters of both teams are available for posterity to view. This “loaded” Mavericks team started Eduardo Najera and Raef Lafrentz around its big three of Dirk, Steve Nash and Michael Finley. The Timberwolves started Rasho Nesterovic and Sam Mitchell or Joe Smith around their big three of Garnett, Chauncey Billups and Wally Szcerbiak.
Billups was not the finals MVP he would eventually become but he was very good in this series. He averaged 22 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.0 steals and .3 blocks per game with 45.1 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent shooting from three and 70 percent shooting from the free throw line. One could even argue he outplayed Nash, as Nash averaged 21 points, 4.3 rebounds, 9.0 assists per game without recording a defensive stat. Nash shot 38.8 percent from the field, 44.4 percent from three and 100 percent from the free throw line.
Overall the non-Dirk Mavericks averaged 79.3 points, 25.7 rebounds, and 18.7 assists, 4 steals and 4 blocks per game. The non-Garnett Timberwolves averaged 78 points, 30.6 rebounds, 11 assists, 4 steals and 1 blocks per game. The Mavericks didn’t destroy the Timberwolves because the rest of the Mavericks outplayed the rest of the Timberwolves. They destroyed the Timberwolves because Dirk destroyed Garnett.
Dirk and Garnett are closely linked in many all time rankings with many even placing Garnett higher. Garnett is rightfully considered an all time great, but in their only playoff meeting, Dirk clearly demonstrated his superiority.
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.