Commentary

Dirk almost perfect but not good enough

Mavs come up short when Nowitzki misses shot at end of brilliant fourth quarter

Updated: June 6, 2011, 8:30 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- The burden being carried by Dirk Nowitzki couldn't be much bigger. He must be practically flawless down the stretch for the Dallas Mavericks to win in these NBA Finals.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki releases the final shot that would have tied the game had it gone in.

Nowitzki accomplished that amazing feat in Game 2, when he capped the Mavs' stunning comeback by scoring their final nine points to even the series. He was phenomenal again in the fourth quarter of Game 3, but the Mavs trail in the series again because the best player in franchise history -- and these playoffs -- couldn't finish the job in Sunday's 88-86 loss to the Miami Heat at the American Airlines Center.

That's not fair. It's just fact.

The Heat have three of the four best players in this series. Nowitzki is the exception, putting significantly more pressure on him than any of Miami's so-called SuperFriends.

Not that the Mavs' MVP minds. While he doesn't publicly ooze swagger, Nowitzki welcomes the opportunity to carry his team to a championship. It's a chance he wasn't sure he'd get again after struggling in the Finals five years ago.

There was no question who the best player on the floor was in Game 3, especially in the final quarter, when Nowitzki scored 15 of his game-high 34 points and grabbed four of his game-high-tying 11 rebounds. There was no doubt where Dallas was going with the ball in the final minute.

But the sizzling superstar fell just short. Or actually, a little bit long, considering his tightly contested 16-footer bounced high off the back rim and fell harmlessly to the hardwood at the buzzer.

"I think it was as good as you can get," Nowitzki said of his look on the last play.

That's how high the standards are for Nowitzki in this series. Udonis Haslem, whom the Heat wisely used to defend Nowitzki with the game on the line after watching him blow by Chris Bosh for the winning bucket in Miami, played the 7-footer as well as he possibly could.

But Nowitzki, who hit double digits in the fourth quarter for the 11th time in 18 playoff games, still got squared up to the basket after a spin behind the free throw line and released the ball cleanly over Haslem's outstretched hand.

"He makes that nine out of 10," Mavs guard Jason Terry said. "This was the one that he missed."

It was the only one he missed in the final six minutes. Nowitzki scored the Mavs' last 12 points, singlehandedly rallying them from a seven-point deficit down the stretch.

However, harsh as it sounds, Nowitzki failed in the final minute.

After Bosh's go-ahead jumper, the Heat swarmed Nowitzki with three defenders in the middle of the floor.

Nowitzki considered shooting over the crowd -- and that's a play he'll probably see in his sleep -- but dumped it off to Shawn Marion in the corner due to concern that Dwyane Wade would block the shot from the side. The problem was that Marion slashed to the basket, a miscommunication that cost the Mavs a possession.

The Mavs got another chance after Nowitzki grabbed a defensive rebound with 4.5 seconds remaining.

Everybody in the building knew he'd get the ball. Most were stunned that his 16-footer didn't fall despite Haslem's commendable defense.

"Any time you get the ball in his hands, you like whatever the opportunities are," Mavs center Tyson Chandler said. "You let him create, but it's tough that he's in that situation."

Nowitzki was in that situation because his teammates let him down. Take his 11-of-21 night out of the mix and the Mavs shot only 34.6 percent from the floor.

Nowitzki delivered for the first 11 minutes of the fourth quarter -- hitting a 3-pointer, a dunk, a layup, a ridiculously difficult turnaround and all six of his free throws -- while his teammates defended and enjoyed the offensive show. The rest of the Mavs scored only seven points in the final frame, none from co-closer Jason Terry.

"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."

Added Jason Kidd, who was scoreless with one assist in the fourth quarter: "We've gotta have somebody else step up. Dirk is doing his part."

Actually, Nowitzki's part includes finishing the deal, which he's done better than anybody throughout this postseason.

The big German doesn't get the blame. But, as Dallas' lone star, the burden is all his.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.

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