Nowitzkis 119, Carmelos 117

Now that, my friends, was a basketball game. A playoff basketball game, with everything on it.


Considering they still won't win this series, the Mavericks had every reason to fold. And after the week he's had, Dirk Nowitzki had every reason to pout.


Dirk produced one of the grittiest performances in franchise history, willing the Mavericks out of a sweep with 44 points, 13 rebounds and one victory that feels more like relief than rejoice.

The game had a similar, eerie tone: Hard fouls, technical fouls, fast pace, tight score into the 80s. And, just like Saturday's Game 3, the Mavs led by four with half-a-minute remaining.

But this time, they made the positive plays down the stretch, including making five free throws and missing one when they needed to. Their reward? A 3-1 series deficit and Game 5 Wednesday in Denver in which the fans at Pepsi Center will likely be in full throat for people named Nowitzki and Cuban.

After this series you might be able to call the Mavericks losers, but you won't be able to call them quitters.

*Dirk's 44 vs. Carmelo's 41 was epic, something you might be able to tell your kids' kids about some day. Yeah, it was that special. Though it wouldn't have counted, didn't you half expect Anthony's 80-footer to go in at the buzzer?

*Up four with :31 remaining, the Mavs again brain-farted on defense. On Saturday they let Anthony drive-n-dunk. Tonight Josh Howard immediately, accidentally fouled him. Then, at the same offensive end as Game 3, Dirk backed down the same defender (Kenyon Martin) into the same lane and - again a smidge prematurely I might add - lofted a similar 12-foot jumper. Saturday his miss caromed off the front rim. Tonight his air ball was caused by Martin's sixth foul.

*Considering the Mavs' Shawn Bradley-thin margin for error, Nowitzki's 16 consecutive free throws is where particularly amazing happened. His rainbow fadeaway over Martin to give Dallas a 114-112 lead was trademark Dirk magic.

*Memo to Martin and his mom: If you're going to dish it out - and by dish it out I mean shove people around and show up to arenas in visitors' jerseys laughing at the home folks in defeat - you better be able to take it. TNT's cameras caught Martin yapping at somebody while trudging off the court. My guess it was Cuban, and that was Martin's way of taking care of it. Wooo, tough guy. If Cuban was trying to bait Martin out of his game by wagging a finger at his mom, it worked. The Thugget had six fouls and two points.

*Was the post-game confetti reallly necessary. Down 3-1 it seems very silly. Why don't they cut down the nets while they're at it?

*Dirk's 44 points (19 in the fourth quarter) are the third-most in Mavs' playoff history, but they don't win this game without Brandon Bass. Especially in light of how repulsive Erick Dampier was. Seriously, five turnovers for a guy who only gets to touch the ball as an afterthought? If there's hope for Game 5, it's that Bass can at least bother Nene. I said bother, not stop.

*Of all the dead spots in the game, I didn't think Dallas could recover from J.J. Barea's two missed free throws at the end of the third quarter. Again, that thimble-tiny margin for error thing. But the Mavs played almost a perfect fourth quarter.

*I don't care how good Carmelo is - and he's damn good - his blue headband doesn't match his blue jersey.

*Was it just me or did the refs cheat Antoine Wright - who else? - out of a third-quarter free throw? After a sweet head fake, he was fouled clearly shooting a 3-pointer but was awarded only two free throws.

*The point guards on my team of 12-year-olds get back on defense better than the Mavs. Rebound-long pass-dunk shouldn't happen at this level. Inexcusable.

*Give Howard credit. Games 3 and 4 proved he isn't healthy - and he isn't done caring. A lot. And, yes, this is two springs in a row when Dallas' second-best player is less than 100 percent.

*Was Denver's Chris Andersen stricken with the Bird Flu?

*Savvy basketball players and classy human beings don't wildly pump their fists and make menacing faces after banking in straightaway, desperation 22-footers to beat the shot clock. It's called luck. Somebody please break that news to J.R. Smith.

*Biggest surprise of the night? Barea actually converting two layups with acrobatic drives right into Nene's kitchen.

*Ironic in an entertaining series saturated with great athletes, good basketball and high drama that in the last :05 of the last two games Mavs have attempted to purposefully commit a foul and purposefully miss a free throw. Strategizing to suck - it seems - is a 50/50 proposition.

*Is it possible to both hate and envy the Nuggets simultaneously? Because I do. Don't you?

*Nuggets in 5.

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