Then he made his presence felt in a big way—the way the league’s likely MVP is supposed to do.
Nowitzki scored 12 points during a 15-0 run over the final 3:07, turning a nine-point deficit into a 118-112 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night, guaranteeing the NBA’s best regular-season team at least one more playoff game.
“We got on Dirk’s back and he carried us,” said Devean George, who knows the feeling after winning titles with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers. “That’s who he is for us. We’re going to ride with him. … We’ll build off this. We’ve been fighting all year. We’ll do the same in the next game.”
Game 6 will be in Oakland on Thursday night. The Warriors likely will be kicking themselves all the way up to tipoff considering how close they were to ending this series in Dallas.
They overcame a 21-point lead and were up 112-103 after a lunging 3-pointer by Baron Davis. It looked like the knockout punch for one of the most stunning upsets in NBA history.
Yet that’s when Nowitzki picked his team off the mat.
He started the rally with consecutive 3-pointers. After Devin Harris spun in a layup off the backboard, Nowitzki cut hard through the lane, caught a pass and was fouled. He hit the tying and go-ahead free throws, part of 6-of-7 roll from the line during the game-changing rally.
“This team has a lot of heart, a lot of pride,” Nowitzki said. “We fought our way to the finals last year. We won some tough games on the road. This team will never give up.”
He doesn’t expect the Warriors to do so either.
“We realize we have to take it from them,” Nowitzki said. “They’re not going to give it to us. We hope to go down there and steal one so we can get Game 7 on our home court.”
One of Nowitzki’s foul shots was because of the ejection of Golden State’s Stephen Jackson, his second this series, which could get him suspended from Game 6, especially considering his history. Warriors coach Don Nelson said Jackson “will be fined by me a substantial amount,” a gesture partly aimed at keeping the league from stepping in.
Jackson, who was clapping when he was tossed, was befuddled by what happened.
“My mouth didn’t open. I didn’t say anything,” he said. “If somebody wants to take that another way just because I’m Stephen Jackson, then so be it. But I was just getting my team motivated for the home game. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t do anything and I don’t feel like I should’ve gotten kicked out.”
By the time Jackson was tossed, Davis was gone, too, having picked up his fifth and sixth fouls during the meltdown. The Warriors also missed their final eight shots, wasting 16 3-pointers, a franchise record for a playoff game.
“All we had to do is guard and we didn’t do it,” Nelson said. “There’s no excuse for that. Bad judgment cost us the game.”
Davis did his best to get Golden State into the second round right away with 27 points and nine assists. He was 7-of-7 for 21 points with six assists, including a half-court alley-oop to Jason Richardson, in the second half. Richardson had five of the 3-pointers and 23 points.
Nowitzki wound up with 30 points, easily his most this series. He was 14-of-15 from the line, and had 12 rebounds, much to the delight of the 21,041 fans, the most ever for a Mavs home game.
But until the late rally, Golden State continued frustrating Nowitzki by sending two and three defenders at him. After making his first two shots, he missed six straight and was only 1-of-2 in the second half before the 3-pointer that started the big finish.
“He was aggressive. We need that,” teammate Josh Howard said. “I’ve seen him fight through adversity. This is the game he broke through.”
Howard had 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and was a big part of the fourth-quarter turnaround. Harris scored 11 of his 16 points in the final period, including nine in a row.
“Our guys are resilient, they have a lot of pride,” Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. “We were able to finish, we were able to close out a game. When this team gets hot, it can be pretty special.”
The Warriors hung on the door to their locker room one of the yellow “We Believe” T-shirts that fueled them at home in Games 3 and 4. They’re sure to see more of them when the first-round series shifts back to Oakland. If a Game 7 is needed, it would be in Dallas on Saturday night.
The Mavericks still have work to do to avoid becoming the third No. 1 seed to bow out in the opening round.
However, this is a team that won 67 regular-season games and had winning streaks of 17, 13 and 12. So two more against a team that went 42-40 doesn’t seem impossible.
“Now they have a lot of pressure,” Johnson said, playing the mind games Nellie has worked so far this series. “They have 10,000 pounds on them up in Oakland. They have a lot of pressure to play well and win that game.”
The Mavericks had about as perfect of a start as any team could want, hitting their first five shots—one from each starter—and scoring on their first nine possessions. They led by 16 points midway through the first, then went up by 21 in the second quarter.
But the Warriors began their comeback by hitting seven of eight shots, four of them 3-pointers. They were back within seven at the break, then six before the third quarter started because of a technical foul against Jerry Stackhouse assessed as the teams left the court. A 3 by Richardson tied it at 67 with 7:56 left in the third.
The Mavs got back up by seven, but went to the fourth up by only three, with the Warriors not about to go away.
Nowitzki had missed at least two foul shots in every game. … Austin Croshere, playing on his 32nd birthday, scored nine points (all on 3-pointers) and center DeSagana Diop had 11, the most of any game in his career. … Stackhouse was mentioned on the latest episode of “The Sopranos,” hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Mavs a win over the Spurs, costing lead character Tony Soprano a big wad of cash. Stackhouse found out about it from his brother. Laughing, he said: “I better watch my neck. I’d rather be on Tony’s side, not against him.”