With another victory, Dallas would win its first NBA Finals, completing an impressive postseason run and elevating Dirk Nowitzki among the game’s all-time greats. LeBron James figures to benefit most if Miami overcomes a three-games-to-two deficit in the best-of-seven series. That’s what he’s seeking to validate his move from Cleveland to Miami in the offseason, but James hasn’t embraced the moment as much as Nowitzki.
Throughout the playoffs, Nowitzki has been more than a perennial all-star. He’s no longer simply the greatest deep-shooting 7-footer ever.
Nowitzki has become a momentum-changing offensive force. He has been as unstoppable as Hakeem Olajuwon was while leading the Houston Rockets to consecutive titles in the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons.
Nowitzki has shot more consistently than Kobe Bryant did when the Los Angeles Lakers won their two most recent titles in 2008-09 and 2009-10. The focus of opponents’ plans, Nowitzki has attracted attention similar to that which Shaquille O’Neal received when the Lakers won three straight championships from 2000 through 2002.
Nowitzki doesn’t have a remarkable low-post game, unique athleticism or power. For him, it’s all about the best fadeaway jump shot in NBA history, an incredible shooting touch and smarts, which are also good things to possess.
Dallas leads the playoffs in late-game mettle because Nowitzki scores a lot in the fourth. His ability to make shots down the stretch was impressive against Portland, Los Angeles and Oklahoma City in the Western Conference playoffs.
None of them is Miami’s equal on defense. Based on statistics, reputation or any other comparison imaginable, the Heat is as good as it gets defensively. Still, that hasn’t helped much.
Dallas is ahead as the Finals shift back to Miami for Game 6 on Sunday. If necessary, Game 7 will be played Tuesday on the Heat’s home court.
Back in 2005-06, Nowitzki led the Mavericks to a two-games-to-none Finals lead against the Heat. After building a 13-point cushion late in Game 3, the Mavericks collapsed, lost four straight and the series.
A team’s best player should shoulder blame for such an epic meltdown, and Nowitzki deservedly received a lot. More would come.
The following season, Dallas established a franchise record with 67 victories and Nowitzki was named the league’s most valuable player. The Mavericks, seeded first in the West, then lost to the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round as Nowitzki struggled.
Those setbacks follow Nowitzki. Regardless of other accomplishments, they remain on his career ledger. He owns them.
Winning a championship, however, minimizes earlier failures. Defeating the league’s most star-heavy lineup adds to the degree of difficulty. Doing it with a Jordan-esque performance would definitely put Nowitzki on the right side of history.