Dirk Nowitzki is a great player, but if the Dallas Mavericks star keeps passing up crucial shots, he'll never be an elite player. Dirk missed eight of 11 shots in the second half of the Game 1 loss to the San Antonio Spurs Sunday afternoon. He clanked two free throws in a two-point loss. He scored only 20 points, 11 below his average in the first-round series sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies. He never truly took advantage of his six-inch height advantage over the Spurs' Bruce Bowen. None of that truly bothers me.
But what happened in the final 13.9 seconds did, because it spoke volumes about not how far the giant German has come, but how far he has to go. Down two points and with the ball in his hands 20 feet from the basket and the clock ticking, the NBA's best players thrive. But Dirk, as he does too often, deferred. At just the hint of a double team approaching from the baseline, Nowitzki altered his aggressive move and started thinking pass. His pass was a panic, which led to Jerry Stackhouse's panicked shot, which led to the Mavericks' loss. Even if he was triple-teamed, Dirk has to take the shot in that situation.
He finished third in the Most Valuable Player voting this season. Can you imagine Kobe Bryant passing that ball? Or LeBron James? How about Michael Jordan? If tonight's Game 2 concludes with a similar situation, Dirk needs to shoot. Miss or make, the Mavs can live with it. We can't, however, swallow another loss because their best player passed. --Richie Whitt