After more than 1,400 NBA total games, it remains one of basketball's cleanest and simplest truths: When Dirk Nowitzki catches and takes a clean look, it barely matters if you get your hand up. That ball's touching nylon, and the scorekeeper's adding two or three to the total for the big German.
It's a transaction the 7-footer's made an awful lot over the last 18 seasons. More often than all but five players in NBA history, to be precise, thanks to this smooth and in-rhythm 17-footer from the Dallas Mavericks' Wednesday night visit to Barclays Center to take on the Brooklyn Nets:
With that jumper over Nets reserve Andrea Bargnani — who, many moons ago, was envisioned by the Toronto Raptors as "the next Dirk," one of the latter-day game's great unicorns — Nowitzki passed soon-to-be-first-ballot Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal for sole possession of sixth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Nowitzki entered Wednesday's play in seventh place with 28,587 points, needing nine to overtake Shaq. Thanks in large part to some exceedingly permissive Nets defense — Dallas shot 70.6 percent from the floor in the first half, en route to an 11-point halftime lead — he needed just five field-goal attempts and 10 minutes of playing time to get there.
The Brooklyn faithful might not have appreciated the resistance offered by the boys in black and white, but they did show some appreciation for the 13-time All-Star's continual climb to ever-more rarefied air:
Dirk comes off to cheers from the Brooklyn crowd. They respect history in the Big Apple. #DALatBKN
— Earl K. Sneed (@EarlKSneed) December 24, 2015
The Mavericks, as you'd expect, quickly released a video tribute praising Nowitzki's legendary accomplishment:
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It'll take some doing for Dirk to elbow his way into the top five; to do so, he'll have to nudge out Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 31,419 points in his illustrious career, 2,819 more than Dirk's got as of halftime of Mavs-Nets. For reference, Dirk's totaled 3,068 points in his last two fully healthy seasons before this one, and at age 37, it's anybody's guess how many more similarly productive campaigns he's got left.
Should he stay healthy, though, heck, why not? Anyone who's watched Dallas this season can tell you that Dirk's nowhere near the glue factory, averaging a shade under 18 points per game while shooting 48.1 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from 3-point land and 89.8 percent from the free-throw line and grabbing rebounds at a higher clip than he has in seven seasons. He continues to serve as the unquestioned offensive focal point for Rick Carlisle's Mavericks, who entered Wednesday's play at 15-13, in fifth place in the Western Conference; Dallas scores like a top-five offense when he's on the court, and like a bottom-five outfit when he sits. Still. In season 18.
When he entered the league back in 1998, many doubted whether Nowitzki's slender build and perimeter-oriented skill-set would translate to the rough-and-tumble NBA; he wound up completely revolutionizing the power forward position and entrenching himself as one of the most fundamentally valuable and single greatest players in the history of the sport. Maybe it makes sense to wonder how long he can keep doing this — Father Time, undefeated, and all that jazz — but then again, maybe it makes sense to stop doubting Dirk Nowitzki. After all, that catch-and-shoot transaction still looks pretty darn clean to us.
Nowitzki's milestone evening almost ended in disaster for the Mavericks, who saw their lead evaporate amid a hail of buckets from Joe Johnson and Thaddeus Young in the third quarter, and who trailed the Nets by 11 points early in the fourth quarter. Dallas charged back, though, with Wesley Matthews and Charlie Villanueva catching fire and point guard J.J. Barea (pressed into starting duty due to a hamstring injury that scuttled Deron Williams' highly anticipated return to Brooklyn) breaking down the Nets' defense.
Brooklyn took a 105-103 lead at the 2:03 mark of the fourth on a rare five-point possession in which Young made a layup before missing his free throw, only to see Lopez snag the offensive rebound and create an opportunity for Johnson to drain an open triple. A pair of Dirk free throws knotted the game at 105 shortly thereafter, and Barea gave Dallas a three-point lead on a clutch and-one floater with 12 seconds left:
... before Young, who entered the game 1-for-12 from downtown this season, tied it up with a huge triple with six seconds left:
... and prevented Barea from winning it with a regulation-closing rejection:
The two teams traded baskets freely in overtime, and after Lopez hit a short hook shot to give Brooklyn a one-point lead with 41 seconds left, Dirk found his way to the basket for a layup with 19.2 seconds left that proved to be the game-winner, giving Dallas a 119-118 overtime victory.
Barea led the way with a career-high 32 points on 13-for-20 shooting to go with a season-high 11 assists, proving equal to the task of carrying the load for the injured Williams:
Nowitzki finished with 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting, giving him 28,609 for his career. But while he appreciated the two that came on that second-quarter jumper, he most relished the interior bucket that capped off the evening. From Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:
"It was a special moment for me," he said. "I saw the whole team getting up and everybody gave me a hug and I've obviously been blessed in this organization for a long, long time.
"There have been a lot of great players who didn't score as many points because they were cut short by injuries. I've been lucky. And we got the win. It would have felt really salty flying home with a loss."
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