In the words of Samuel L. Jackson’s Pulp Fiction character Jules Winnfield, the German, Dirk Nowitzki, finally “shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness” and on to the NBA Finals after five long years in the Playoffs abyss.
Nowitzki hit the go-ahead three-pointer from the top of the key and iced two free throws to seal the 100-96 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder last night for the rights to the team’s second Western Conference crown in franchise history.
Thing is, Dirk’s been there, done that.
“We got one of those trophies already and it didn’t mean anything at the end,” said Nowitzki of the Western Conference trophy. “I think once you get to the Finals there is no second place finish.”
Dirk has demons to exorcise. All he can think about is letting the Miami Heat take four straight games on the way to the 2006 NBA title after his team was up 2-0 in the series. It was only compounded by the fact that the very next year, he took his team to the best record in the League and was bounced from the Playoffs in the first round by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors.
From there, the Mavs became regular-season stalwarts, but second-season afterthoughts. Now, in the immortal words of Diddy circa 1995, this is the remix. It would even be poetic justice if Miami closes out the Chicago Bulls to make it back to the NBA’s biggest stage themselves. Dirk would have the chance to slay the dragon that burned him. He’d finally get his do over against the very team that caused all of his nightmares. He could take the Larry O’Brien back from South Beach.
As otherworldly as Nowitzki has played this postseason, he’s worn a certain level of gravitas on his face, happy for each win but careful not to get caught up because he knows that he ain’t done “ish” yet. For the former MVP, the ultimate goal, the only goal, is the ring, the ‘chip, the redemption.
And that’s why, with all of its youth, and two superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, OKC was not going to stand in the German’s way.
It was evident in his near perfect Game 1 performance. It was cemented in his legend making, Larry Bird comparison-inducing, come from behind wizardry in Game 4 and it was written in the Game 5 clincher.
“He’s been unbelievable throughout the whole Playoffs,” said Tyson Chandler. “I really feel like he’s a man on a mission.”
The Thunder, for their part, played exceptionally well, leading the whole way behind James Harden’s superb play off the pine. The Bearded One finished with 23 points and 6 dimes. Russell Westbrook finished with a game-high 31 points, but only shot 11-28 from the field. The Thunder will be back, they will figure it out, they will get there…one day. Just not today.
Nowitzki and Shawn Marion each tallied 26 points, but the most important stat was their point total in the fourth quarter: Matrix for 15 and Dirk for 9. It’s been said that Marion is not the pogo stick athlete he once was with the Phoenix Suns, but his defense and key plays down the stretch made him an integral cog in the Mavs machine in this series.
Now, as the Mavs await the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals, they’ll look to remove Dirk and Jason Kidd from the list of great players to never win a ring. And if Mark Cuban has anything to say about it—and you know damn well he does—it’s well within reach.
“All I can tell everybody is…” said Mark Cuban during the trophy presentation. “We ain’t done yet.” — Maurice Bobb / @ReeseReport