The 2006 Western Conference Semis between the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs was a series for the ages – Hall of Famers, a seven-game series and gut-wrenching drama. In particular, the Dallas Mavericks had never seen real playoff success until that season. Dirk Nowitzki, as a prelude to his 2011 championship run, poured in 37 points to go along with 15 rebounds in route to the Game 7 win. But the most memorable moment of the series came before that final Game 7 reached overtime, when the Dallas Mavericks were trailing 104-101 in the fourth quarter.
Had they lost the game, it would have been a choke of historic proportions (they were leading the series 3-1, as well as held a 20-point second quarter lead), but more importantly another in the long line of losses to the championship-saavy San Antonio Spurs. But Dirk Nowitzki received the ball with 25.9 seconds left and faced up against notoriously dirty defender Bruce Bowen. Except Nowitzki broke out of his normal mold on that play, deciding to drive it hard to the rim instead of pulling up for the jumper. And it worked, as Dirk bullied his way through Bowen and drew the foul on Manu Ginobili, plus the made basket.
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili missed last-second shots to clinch the series, and the Mavs rolled in overtime, 119-111. Even though the Mavs defeated the Phoenix Suns 4-2 in the Western Conference Finals and eventually lost four straight to the Miami Heat after leading 2-0 in the NBA Finals, that moment of the Western Semis was a turning point in Dirk’s career. From that moment forward, he was no longer a scoring big man. He was a leader, and superstar, a foundation. If you look at that roster, he really did put in a similar effort to that of 2011. Even though he had Josh Howard, Jason Terry and and Devin Harris, it was Dirk’s team. They moved at his pace, and the ebb and flow of the franchise went with his ebb and flow. It took five more years for Dallas to break through, but I’ll always look back at that play as the day when Dirk decided to win. He didn’t settle for a fallaway jumper. He took it to the rim, put his body on the line and dared San Antonio to stop him. And they couldn’t.
How will we remember Dirk’s career?
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