Dirk Nowitzki: How Good Was May 17th’s Peformance?

Initially I was going to write an article on how good Derrick Rose actually is in historical context.  I’m not going to anymore.  Last night was too much.

      Some of you likely had déjà vu from when Dirk Nowitzki and Tracy McGrady had 53 and 48 points respectively.[1] I sort of did along with you.  In any case, I watched every minute of last night’s game, and I feel compelled to answer a few questions that came to me about Dirk and Durant’s respective performances.

Because the Mavericks won, I’m going to start with some Dirk questions, leaving Durant how he finished after Game 1.  Last.[2]

Question 1: What was the most impressive part of Dirk’s performance?

Nowitzki set a record for most free throw shots made consecutively in a playoff game – with no misses mind you – at 24. This performance beats 2010 3-point contest winner Paul Pierce’s 22, who himself is a great shooter. This alone is a testament to Dirk’s discipline and fundamental soundness.  He shot a ridiculous 80%[3] from the field, 50%[4]over the past 10 games, and has transformed his fade-away into one of the most feared offensive weapons in the NBA.  For the record, if Dirk improves his shooting

They matter. But they don't say it all.

percentage by even .05% a game, he’ll vault ahead of Worthy, Maxwell, and Dawkins for 7th in NBA playoff history.[5]  He scored 48 points in 41 minutes, to go with 6 assists, and we all saw him defer to J.J. Barea when necessary.  He led when it mattered.

In my opinion these gaudy stats do tell a story, but I think Dirk’s 4 blocks, 6 boards and no 3-pointers attempted are also impressive.  Dirk played a great defensive game by using his length to block shots and clog the lane.  This was especially important once Shawn Marion fouled out and when the Thunder made its late-game run.  For once – in a long time – Wilbon and Magic commended Dirk’s toughness on both sides of the ball.  Most impressively, he did all that while pulling off the aforementioned offensive accomplishments.  Aside from the defense, Dirk did not take any shots from outside; normally when I hear about Dirk scoring 48, I, like Wilbon, assume that Dirk heated up from beyond the arc.  Not the case.  He did all his work in and around the paint, torching every single defender the Thunder supplied.

After Dirk hit yet another patent pending off-balance, one-legged, fade-back 18 footer, Van Gundy declared that Dirk has elevated himself into the top 10 or 15 players – which he immediately retracted – but it speaks to a larger point.   Has Dirk added to his legacy in any way after this game?  It’s the next question I aim to answer.

Question 2: Does this performance elevate Dirk’s status amongst players in the NBA?

I want to start by saying that Van Gundy is flat wrong.  Last night’s game does not elevate Dirk into the top 10 players ever, top 15 neither.[6]  But I do think that this is the single greatest performance in Dirk’s career, notwithstanding 53 against McGrady.  I know, I’m aware of Dirk’s line on Dec 2, 2004 where he put up a staggering: 53 points (15-32 FGs, 2-5 3FGs, 21-22 FTs) to go along with 16 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 blocks in 49 minutes.[7]

Here’s my point: Dirk took 32 shots to get to 53 points in 2004.  Last night, Dirk took FIFTEEN SHOTS.  Fifteen.  I’m sorry, that’s absolutely ridiculous; I understand he didn’t have the same rebounding performance, but his efficiency is historic. He literally

Dirk on May 17.

embarrassed every single defender that the Thunder tried to use; if they do not try and trap or double-team they’re certifiably insane. Now add that this took place in the playoffs, a place where Dirk has been much maligned, and it becomes clear to me that this game was his best.  Wilbon and Magic called it Bird-esque.

What he has done – in addition to playing the best game of his career – is cement his position as the best shooting big-man in the history of the NBA.  The man averaged 50-40-90 percentages for 2006, putting him in the same league as Miller, Bird, and Nash.[8]  There are no other legitimate seven-footers who come close.  Now the most obvious counter-argument is that he was the greatest shooting big man ever, but he’s not anymore.  For all those misguided folks who say he’s lost it, consider this season: 52-39-89,[9] that’s just a shade away from where he was five years ago.  I also demand that people who make that argument re-watch last night’s game, just to refresh what Dirk is capable of doing shooting the basketball.  I almost want to say that his mid-range game is better than Carmelo Anthony’s, but I need to develop that argument more.

Question 3: Are we forgetting about Kevin Durant’s performance?

   Probably.  But when the opponent in your duel sets an NBA record and beats you, 40 points (10-18, 18-19 FT), 8, 5 and 2 blocks is just not good enough.  Unquestionably Durant’s performance was remarkable, his efficiency was not close to Dirk’s, but impressive nonetheless.  He, too shot a ton of free throws and did his level best to keep the Thunder in the game.  But it was too little.  Suffice it to say that  if Dirk had an average night, all of us would be telling the opposite story: the Mavericks need to figure out just what to do with Durant.  So now I want to change the subject away from Dirk and Durant to these opposing stories – what to do with Dirk and Durant?

Question 4: Where is this series headed?

I’m sticking with SemihErden’s position of Mavericks in 6. I want to begin, though, by saying that OKC fans ought not complain about Dirk’s 24 FT attempts when Westbrook and Durant took 18 each.  Each.  That said, I imagine the refs are going to take it a bit easier on the whistle in the upcoming games.  Although Adelman said the game will be won and lost on the FT line, I hope it’s on account of what I like to call “aggressive FTs” – those earned by driving to the hoop rather than shot in the bonus.[10]

I think Oklahoma City needs to get the ball out of Dirk’s hands at all costs.  Late in the game, the Mavs were up by 10 when the Thunder quasi-trapped him, he fumbled the ball, and it led to a fast break where Westbrook almost executed a 3pt. play.  The game was almost manageable and even Mark Jackson said that it’s key to get the ball out of Dirk’s hands.  Either that or, as PakaStallion has suggested, get Durant to check him; anything beats Dirk flatly embarrassing Sefalosha and Ibaka time and again.

More generally though, OKC’s bench – as SemihErden suggested – is too short in comparison to Dallas’.  Harden is great, but after that it gets a little rough.  I’m not going to rehearse arguments that already have been made, but some things are coming into sharper focus after Game 1.


Congratulations to Dirk Nowitzki on his stellar performance.  It’s about time he gets some recognition.  If he wins a championship this year, there won’t be any doubt.

[2] I’m channeling Big Boi here: “If you ain’t first, you last.”

[4] Id.

[6] In alphabetical order: Abdul-Jabbar, Bird, Bryant, Chamberlain, Duncan, Jordan, M. Malone, Magic, Olajuwon, O’Neal, Robertson, Russell, Stockton, and that’s just the top of my head.  I can think of several more automatics, but I’ll let you pick.

[9] Id. at 3

[10] Undoubtedly, and by Adelman’s own admission, the Mavs lived in the bonus during Game 1.

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11 Responses to Dirk Nowitzki: How Good Was May 17th’s Peformance?

  1. EastCoastBias says:

    I agree with the idea of playing Durant against Dirk on the perimeter to give him a check. Dirk is way too quick for any of the Thunder defenders. Putting Durant on him may force Dirk to rethinking putting it on the floor, but the problem remains that Dirk’s high release is unguardable.

    I think the Thunders bigger concern has to be the Mavs bench. Terry and Barrea lit up the Lakers and dropped close to 30 combined last night. Dirk is always gonna get his (maybe not to last night’s extent), but if the Thunder cannot stop the bench, then it will be over in 4.

    • Random Commenter says:

      Dude, Barea and Terry didn’t combine for almost 30. They combined for 45.

      • EastCoastBias says:

        Haha my bad- I thought I heard 25 on Sportscenter this morning. Either way- Thunder are in trouble if they can’t stop that little dude.

  2. LBJ says:

    If I were the coach of the thunder I wouldnt double dirk right from the start. The mavericks would put in terry and stojakovic and they will be open for threes – game over okc 😀

  3. pakastallion says:

    Really enjoyed the article! To the Durant checking Dirk point, I think that strategy should only be used in the fourth quarter (OKC doesn’t want Durant to pick up fouls early), and still with a double team. Preferably you have Durant check Dirk straight up, and hold him to fade away jump shots. If Dirk is having an off night, OKC need not bring the double. If he is doing what he did last night, bring the double off the weakest offensive scorer (brendan haywood, if he is in the game – put him on the line) OR run a “hard-zone” favoring a double on Dirk. Either way, you will have to live with Dirk scoring.

    The other bet for OKC to slow down Dirk is to get him on the defensive end. I know coaches hate to do this, but i would make it a point to go after him in hopes of a)getting him in foul trouble, or b) getting him tired. Best way to do this? Early in the first half start running screen and rolls with Durant and Dirk’s man (whoever it is.) If they switch, KD should be aggressive and go straight at Dirk, if they don’t switch off the pick, KD will have an open jumper. Im not suggesting that OKC totally abandon their offense (which is screen roll anyway), I just think they should make it a point to work Dirk. Finally, late in games OKC has to put KD on the block and let him go to work (pass, shoot) much like Dallas was doing with Dirk.

    Last points: a) While i think we can debate if Dirk’s mid-range game is better than Melo’s, there is no debate that Melo has the more complete offensive game (i’m sure this will shock people, but let’s not be prisoners of the moment.) b) Dirk is no where near a top 15 great, i’d have to sit down and think about it, but I cannot even say with confidence he is a top 30. c) I agree with you, this was probably his greatest performance ever, and one of the best performances we have seen in the playoffs.

    • pakastallion says:

      oh one other point: I appreciate the part where you said “we all saw him [Dirk] defer to J.J. Barea when necessary.” It speaks to how exceptional of a performance and player Dirk is because he kept making the right play. Normally a dude that hot, only taking 15 shots would shoot till he missed (justifiably so), but Dirk was patient and willing to give up the ball when the matches and situations demanded it. Imagine Bryant, Melo, or Wade within striking distance of a 50 point game in the conference finals, only taken 15 shots, on fire, passing the ball and “deferring” to a bench player when the game was still up for grabs. not. happening.

      • Rod says:

        Great discussion all around. I agree with pakastallion. I think Melo’s game is immature and he does NOT do what is best for the team. Dirk and the Maverick’s are doing what is needed to win (i.e. they are the definition of a team). I would be curious to see a stats based comparision/discussion of Dirk and Melo.

      • tarsier says:

        It’s difficult to compare such players statistically because stats do a horrible job of measuring defense. And Dirk is a very good defender. Not elite, but very good. However, he doesn’t get a lot of blocks or steals to show for it. Melo, on the other hand, is a sieve.
        Melo is the more gifted offensive player. But I’d take Dirk over him any day.

  4. EastCoastBias says:

    If you look at players over the last 30 years:

    Retired:Jordan, Magic, Kareem, Bird, Olajuwon, Ewing, Malone, Robinson, and Barkley

    Current: Kobe, LBJ, Shaq, Duncan, and Wade

    By no means is that list all encompassing, but I’m finding it hard pressed to say that Dirk is better than any of those guys. And if you take into account players pre-1980, there is no way Dirk is a top 30 player.

    • Flying Haque says:

      For now, I would put his career over Wade (12 great seasons vs. maybe 4 really good seasons from D-Wade). Dirk’s team has won over 50 games for the last 12 seasons or so while Wade’s teams have not always been very good. While D-Wade is very, very good, he hasn’t done enough to be considered better than Dirk

  5. Jan says:

    Doanwanna,I know you’re upset and you have definitely put more shin & foot sweat into this Mavs sesaon than anyone I know. But don’t give up, little camper. Yeah, that was embarassing. I agree, it was gutless. You couldn’t be more correct in saying it was pitiful. But, that’s what makes you a great fan. And being a great fan sucks when you lose. Especially the way we just lost. On the flip-side, nothing gives you more wood than when your team wins.They’re the Dallas Mavericks and come next year I fully expect your support. Don’t be a typical Dallas fan. You know who I’m talking about we make fun of them all the time. The guys that jump off the bandwagon. Don’t be what I hate about this city.Granted, I’m a football guy first and I’ve been in a mad love affair with our Cowboys ever since my mother decided to launch me out of her most private of places. And every time the going gets tough, half of this fuckin town slams the boys. PUSSIES!! We won 5 rings WHAT ELSE??As for the Mavs, they’ll get back. I believe in Avery and hopefully some personnel adjustments can right the ship. Maybe not. BUT .I’ll always support the Mavericks and so will you.I know it hurts, DP. What you need to do is concentrate on the things that make you happy right now. Focus on the kids you babysit everyday. Focus on your country music. Make it a point to clean a few extra public restrooms everyday. YOU CAN GET THROUGH THIS.Wanna hug it out?

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