Even on a night when he didn't have his Hall of Fame fastball, Dirk Nowitzki's still the kind of all-time shooter to whom the basketball gods will grant the member's bounce in time of need ... much to the chagrin of the already-quite-chagrinned New York Knicks.
With 10.6 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter on Monday night, and the Knicks and Mavericks tied at 108 after New York scored eight straight points in 37 seconds thanks in part to several late Dallas miscues, Mavericks swingman Vince Carter inbounded the ball from the left sideline. Rather than go with some variant of the pick-and-roll action that had carved up New York's defense time and again on the Madison Square Garden floor, Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle elected to just have point guard Jose Calderon feed Nowitzki at the free-throw line and trust the 13th-leading scorer in NBA history to make a play. And oh, what a play he made:
To hear the man himself tell it:
Dirk on game-winner: "I think it hit every part of the rim. It hit glass. It hit Jerry West on the left and came back. ... We'll take it."— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) February 25, 2014
Dirk: "It wasn’t the greatest of shots, but we’ll take it.”— Bryan Gutierrez (@BallinWithBryan) February 25, 2014
Yes, I'd imagine you would.
The in-and-out-and-back-in foul-line jumper dropped in at the buzzer to give the Mavericks a 110-108 road win over the reeling Knicks. It wasn't the sharpest night for Nowitzki, who finished with just 15 points on 6 for 13 shooting, including an 0 for 5 mark from 3-point range, to go with three assists, two steals and a lone rebound in 32 1/2 minutes. But he was nails when it counted — the game-winner was his only basket of the fourth quarter — and the 7-foot German did his best work when closely guarded, going 4 for 6 on contested field-goal attempts, including the finale over the top of a swiping (but not necessarily ideally contesting) Carmelo Anthony, according to NBA.com's player-tracking data.
Somewhat surprisingly, it was only the third buzzer-beating game-winner of Nowitzki's illustrious 16-year NBA career, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The previous two both came in 2009; the first came on Jan. 19, 2009, against the Philadelphia 76ers, and the second on Nov. 16, 2009, against the Milwaukee Bucks in overtime.
Nowitzki had plenty of help in the backcourt on Monday. The trio of Vince Carter (23 points, 7 for 12 from 3-point land, three rebounds, three assists), Monta Ellis (22 points, six assists, three rebounds) and Jose Calderon (20 points, 5 for 8 from long distance, six assists, three rebounds) combined to torch the Knicks' famously leaky perimeter defense, setting season highs in 3-pointers made (15) and attempted (36) en route to scoring at a ridiculous 119.5 points-per-100 possessions clip against Mike Woodson's woeful squad.
Samuel Dalembert and Brandan Wright also combined to give the Knicks fits on the interior, especially while diving to the rim after setting a screen, combining for 18 points and 14 rebounds, while versatile guard Devin Harris chipped in eight assists and four rebounds for the Mavericks, who have won four of five and nine of 11 to improve to 35-23, good for seventh place in the Western Conference, a half-game back of the sixth-place Golden State Warriors and a half-game ahead of the eighth-seeded Phoenix Suns.
As for the Knicks ... well, in a season of depressing moments and crushing defeats, Monday night might have represented a new valley.
New York fell despite outrebounded the Mavericks, 41-34, and shooting 52.6 percent from the floor while making 14 3-pointers in 33 tries against Dallas' defense, which, at 23rd among 30 NBA teams in points allowed per possession, is nearly as the Knicks' 26th-ranked unit. They also squandered yet another monstrous scoring night by Anthony, who poured in a game-high 44 points on 14 for 29 shooting, including a 7 for 12 mark from 3-point range, to go with nine rebounds and four assists in nearly 42 minutes.
Anthony now has five 40-point outings this season, second-most in the NBA behind Kevin Durant, with three such outbursts coming in the last four games. The Knicks have lost two of those three, and three of the five; in fact, the Knicks are just 7-11 when Anthony has scored 30 or more points this season. Putting up that many points and still coming away on the short end of the stick seems like it's weighing heavily on Anthony:
Melo: "You score 40 or 44 and still lose, and you ask yourself, 'Is it worth it?'"— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 25, 2014
Asked Melo to clarify what he meant by saying "Is it worth it?" He said he meant "The losing. I'd score 10 if it meant a win."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 25, 2014
Melo, on Dirk's shot: "After the first bounce, I thought we were going to overtime."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 25, 2014
Carmelo, on how it felt when Dirk's shot went through: "Like a needle in a balloon."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 25, 2014
While you can certainly understand Anthony feeling deflated as he watched Nowitzki's shot fall through, he and his teammates must bear at least some of the blame for a fair few self-inflicted puncture wounds. The Knicks committed 21 turnovers on Monday night leading to 25 Mavericks points, including a staggering nine in the first quarter that helped Dallas build a double-digit lead that the Knicks would spend the rest of the game trying to overcome.
When they'd finally done so in the fourth quarter, having strung together a couple of stops and gotten several big buckets to put themselves in a position to take the lead in the closing seconds, New York eschewed play-calling or set-running to go with a time-honored Anthony isolation on the right wing against Carter. He tried to get Carter off the ground with a pump-fake, but when the veteran stayed grounded, Anthony had positioned himself out of a shot and nearly traveled, prompting him to offload the ball to J.R. Smith, who was left holding the bag on a busted possession, got airborne and tried to draw a foul on Ellis. It didn't work, and Dallas got the ball back with a chance for the win. They took advantage.
Smith finished with 15 points on 7 for 16 shooting, seven assists and four rebounds, while Tyson Chandler added 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks, who have now lost six of seven and nine of 11 to fall to 21-36 on the season. New York now trails the Atlanta Hawks by six games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and will finish Monday night closer to the absolute bottom of the conference (they lead the Milwaukee Bucks by 9 1/2 games) than they are to the top of their division (they're 10 1/2 games behind the Atlantic-leading Toronto Raptors).
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, feel free to check out the friendly roll elsewhere, thanks to frank den.
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