Pause the obituary and fast-forward the optimism, because Dirk Nowitzki just saved his ass and his team’s season with a comeback of Staubachian proportions. Just as another passive performance was shoving his Mavericks to the brink of an unthinkable elimination, Nowitzki suddenly summoned one of the greatest individual finishes in NBA playoff history. With Dallas trailing Golden State 112-103 with 3:10 remaining, Nowitzki hit a three-pointer, blocked a shot, hit another three and climaxed his climax by making six of seven free throws in the Mavericks’ unfathomable 15-0 run and 118-112 Game 5 victory.
Its MVP candidate resurrected, Dallas is back from the dead in a best-of-seven series that moves to Oakland for Thursday night’s Game 6. And, yes, after a memorable, magic night at the AAC, the Mavericks in seven remains a viable conclusion. And while the self-appointed experts were busy doling out blame and digging Dallas’ grave, I joined the largest crowd to ever watch hoops at the AAC and got busy watching an instant classic.
For a change, Mavs fans were a positive factor. Despite the building’s artificial ambience and non-stop cues for when to be rowdy, loud and proud, the crowd stood most of the game, acquiesced to P.A. dork Billy Hayes’ constant demands of “Let’s Go Mavs!” and even generated their own “You Suck!” chant toward Baron Davis during a fourth-quarter free throw. The fans even stayed awake despite life-force-draining shenanigans to start the fourth. Seriously, a midget first dancing to an Al Green slow jam and then stepping onto a scale to weigh himself is supposed to get the home bunch jacked for the stretch? WTF?
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And you know what else: Owner Mark Cuban was great too. With his team down 109-103 and the building in stunned silence, Cuban calmly bobbed his head to “Crazy Train” and moved to the edge of his team’s huddle to clap encouragement and offer vocal support. Not wild, animated suggestions, mind you, just a good old-fashioned one-man pep rally. Bravo.
Despite all the positive vibes, man, did it get bleak. When an off-balance Davis hit Golden State’s 16th -- yes, 16th! -- three-pointer of the night, Dallas was in a nine-point hole and the dude with the hood and the sickle was limbering. Dirk, however, wasn’t ready to die. “Our whole season was swimming away,” he would say later.
That’s when, just in time, he stopped thinking and started playing. A catch-and-shoot three got Dallas within 112-106. A block on Matt Barnes earned another possession and another three, this one after a nifty pump fake to trim the margin to 112-109. Like some of us predicted, Nellie and his band of underdogs totally wilted as frontrunners. The long jumpers that seemed so effortless all night came up woefully short in the last three minutes, as Golden State missed its last eight shots. Devin Harris made a driving layup, Dirk grabbed two key rebounds and calmly sank free throws after ensuing fouls and, finally, Dallas breathed a sigh of relief.
Dallas has been stagnant and downright ineffective more often than not in this series, and here’s hoping the improbable comeback came complete with an illuminated light bulb over Dirk’s noggin. At the ends of Game 4 and 5, with seemingly nothing only the line, Nowitzki swished four out of four three-pointers. If he plays loose Thursday, Dallas will force a Game 7 Saturday at the AAC that just might be as exciting as last night’s Game 5. --Richie Whitt