Monday, June 6, 2011

Nowitzki Won't Keep the Mavs On Top Alone

My faith in the Dallas Mavericks has been diminished in many ways. The shock of perhaps Dirk Nowitzki falling short of another astonishing feat is a bit worrisome, all because he couldn't hit a contested 16-footer that bounced high off the rim and dropped to the court as the buzzer sounded.

"Well, I thought we had opportunities," said Nowitzki. "First of all, we can’t always fall down behind. I think we’re always reacting. We did in the first quarter. Third quarter we came out slow, fell down big."

He tried, mind you, to duplicate an encore finish in Sunday's 88-86 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, he tried to obviously complete a flawless performance again and then he tried to virtually be the hero in the end. Instead on this particular night, he would rush the shot with very little time on the clock to hoist a prayer that would have sent it to overtime -- he would hit a missed shot, stand hopeless in pain, then lower his head as if Dallas' aspirations mercifully imploded at the damnest time.

"We all know that basketball is a game of runs," said Nowitzki. We have to stop the runs a little quicker. We can’t get down 15 all the time and battle back. You can get like a five, six-point swing here and there. We can’t get in a deep hole like that."

It sounds more like Nowitzki can use assistance and should be pleading for help from his passive supporting cast, coming in a series where the Heat consist of too much talent, coming in a series where Nowitzki has worked alone and lifted the Mavs out of distress. It could be that Nowitzki is mentally exhausted and weary after carrying the Mavericks to the NBA Finals, along with staging a breathtaking comeback in the previous meeting, an unexpected rally the folks can presumably embrace for the ages.

And since he's being compared against the all-time greats in basketball, he ultimately seeks his first ever NBA championship and waited a long time for another crack at capturing a title while wearing a Mavs uniform. But what we fail to realize is Nowitzki cannot win it alone and he'll need reinforcements from his non-existent supporting cast in these Finals, if Dallas plans on celebrating its first NBA title in franchise history.

It was so easy to postulate, evidently when we thought Nowitzki was the invincible star in these Finals, when we suspected him to pose as the most lethal performer, that the Mavericks had climbed beyond any doubts. No one standing on our earth is superhuman -- including Nowitzki -- who showed he has weaknesses as every other player in the game. For once, he looks imperfect in crunch-time and in no position to showcase his brilliance, although he almost led the Mavs to a significant win. When he touched the ball on the last possession, he was flawed on the last attempt and the lack of support from his lackadaisical teammates.

What the hell is with Jason Terry?? Being down 2-1 isn't such a bad predicament, considering that the Mavericks are resilient and poised. Given Dallas' history, though, the Mavs are vilified and have been known to derail and suffocate in huge games with plenty implications, particularly in the most challenging moments. It seems strange to recognize the Mavs having flaws -- teammates playing soft and passive in this series alone.

It's almost unfathomable that Terry has come into view with a dismal performance, shooting merely 38 percent from the field in the NBA Finals. The unfolding of his struggles blazoned in Game 3 when Terry shot 5-for-13 and scored 15 points and, for much of the night, he was ineffective as the defensive-minded Heat double-teamed and trapped the absent-minded guard.

"We've been very inconsistent," Terry said. "Obviously, offensively is where we like to get in the paint and finish plays, and we haven't done that. A lot of that falls on my shoulders, and so again in Game 4, I will be real aggressive. I have to be for us to be successful."

Oh, I'm sure he'll be aggressive in Game 4 Tuesday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas. The best player on the floor, no doubt, is Nowitzki, such as in the fourth quarter when he scored 15 of his game-high 34 points and snatched 11 rebounds in the game. Maybe he oozed his swagger, or maybe he was persistent for 48 minutes. Whatever it was -- if you will -- it wasn't enough to beat Heat and it surely wasn't enough to seize a commanding lead in the series.

It's telling the Mavs are not a stout team, from the oversized seven-footer in Nowitzki who act as if he's a shooting guard to the fervid owner Mark Cuban, but are fundamentally built to capture a title. But if the Mavs are seeking to win a championship, minimize the painful collapses in the past and erase the doomsday memories of postseason failures, then Dallas shouldn't just depend on Nowitzki.

"We have to be a little sharper at the beginning and not let them get their rhythm," said Nowitzki. And I thought the crowd pushed us forward. So, we’re going to need the same effort out of them. It’s basically a must-win situation."

With the exception of Nowitzki, he has manipulated the state of the series and placed significantly a heavy burden on the Heat. When he dominated in the last game, Nowitzki single-handedly defeated the Superteam and capped a historic comeback in NBA Finals history, scoring the Mavs' final nine points for a stunning victory that tied the series. The standards, in the meantime, are immense for Nowitzki just as much as the circumstances are larger than life for the Mavs as a whole.

"Haslem's fronting me everywhere, trying to keep the ball out of my hands," said Nowitzki. "He does a good job. He's active, he's quick on his feet. Down the stretch, I think he stayed down and made me shoot a contested shot and a shot I can make, but unfortunately it didn't go."

And by the time the fourth quarter arrived, he scored double-digits for the 11th time in 18 playoff games but it still was meaningless in a loss. Long before the Mavs eroded on the final basket, Nowitzki scored Dallas' last 12 points and rallied the troops from a seven-point deficit. Most folks figured, after Bosh hit the go-ahead jump shot, Nowitzki would have achieved greatness at the end.

But instead the Heat trapped him with three defenders in the middle of the floor, harassed him, and lastly, stopped him from his proverbial finishes. This would make sense when he indeed had a great look at the basket, but clearly, he missed it and was crowded. The masses in the building were stunned in disbelief that Nowitzki had a rare miss on a 16-footer, even though Udonis Haslem had a hand in his face when he attempted the jumper. For the Mavs, should the supporting cast continues to disappear and abandon the Finals, Nowitzki is marred in trouble as long as Dallas shoots 34.6 percent from the floor and take nights off by shooting a miserable 11-of-21 from the field.

"We didn't really give him much help," said Terry, who was 0-of-4 in the fourth quarter, including a potential go-ahead 3-pointer with 58.9 seconds remaining. "I take a lot of that on my shoulders."

It took Nowitzki to deliver in the fourth quarter, hitting a lone three-pointer, fueling the home crowd on an electrifying dunk and even a layup, an incredible comeback as his teammates watched in delight. To be honest, the Mavs won't achieve an ambition if the Mavs score merely seven points in the final minutes.

It's the biggest game with nearly as many people watching, a moment for Terry to hit three-pointers, a moment for him to overcome his struggles. The only difference is, he's a zilch in the Finals, just as much as Jason Kidd has been inconsistent. He's known for making his teammates better, but he was scoreless with one assist in the fourth quarter.

"We've gotta have somebody else step up. Dirk is doing his part."

It was nearly an instant classic, quite fittingly, that Nowitzki played like a one-dimensional superstar, advisedly choosing to take the last shot and risk the trend of potentially leading the series. And then, as we know it, he botched the biggest shot but has undoubtedly placed himself among the NBA elites by scoring 34 of the Mavs 86 points, while the rest of the players withered in which Dallas was outscored 21-7 in the six minutes he sat on the bench. As much as we have relished Nowitzki, he is fortunate that he's been relieved with the presence of Shawn Marion, shooting 59 percent in the series with Nowitzki on the floor.

So when it comes to the Mavs, it takes a remarkable supporting cast. It takes more than Dirk. Simply, he can't do it by himself.