"He probably doesn't get enough credit for being the competitor that he is, and for being so tough-minded," teammate Lamar Odom said of Nowitzki. "There's nothing soft about Dirk. He's tough."
Nowitzki scored 27 points, fought for loose balls and screamed out in exhilaration several times as the defending NBA champion Mavericks won 106-99 over the Southwest Division-leading Spurs on Saturday night for their third consecutive victory.
After winning at home against Washington and Charlotte, the NBA's two worst teams, beating San Antonio was much more impressive, even if the Spurs were playing the second consecutive night. Dallas never trailed and the only tie was at 2-all.
"It was a playoff battle. Anytime we see the Spurs it's a fun game, great atmosphere, both teams really trying to get the win. As expected, it was a physical game," Nowitzki said. "They went small some, tried to mix it up. At the end they were double-teaming some. I thought as a team, we always made the right play, find the open guy. That was definitely big."
With the shot clock running down late in the third quarter, Nowitzki got the ball with Manu Ginobili right on top of him. The Mavericks' perennial All-Star made a 20-foot jumper for a 10-point lead and let out a scream, as much excitement for making the shot as letting officials know he thought he was also fouled.
San Antonio cut that deficit in half on a 3-pointer by Ginobili nearly 3 minutes into the fourth quarter, but got no closer. Dallas responded by scoring eight in a row.
Nowitzki defensively harassed Tiago Splitter into a miss, then made a pass to Brandan Wright for a two-handed slam. After Jason Kidd added a 3-pointer, Nowitzki added a 3 from the left wing and then stared toward the Spurs bench with the lead stretched back to 90-77.
"Dallas was the sharper team. ... We were a half-step behind from the start of the night defensively and they took advantage," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Dirk gets a lot of points no matter who's guarding him. He's an MVP and Hall of Fame player."
Jason Terry added 17 points and Rodrigue Beaubois 16 for the Mavs, whose winning streak comes after a miserable 2-7 stretch over 12 days. Kidd had 14 points with four 3-pointers and 10 assists for his first double-double
"I missed easy shots and was a little tired from a big game (Friday) night with playoff intensity," Parker said.
This was another intense game.
Ginobili and Nowitzki got tangled up several times during the game.
With 3½ minutes left in the first half, Nowitzki came away with a loose ball as Ginobili tried to strip it out of his hands. Nowitzki held on and screamed out after twisting his body away while the whistle blew for a foul. Nowitzki made both free throws, part of the stretch when he scored the last 12 points of the first half for Dallas.
There were also a few physical moments between Nowitzki and Stephen Jackson, who played his first game with the Spurs since being acquired from Golden State in a deadline trade Thursday.
Jackson wound up on the floor after getting tied up with Nowitzki late in the first half, and it was Jackson who got called for the foul.
Beaubouis started at shooting guard with Vince Carter shifting over to small forward to replace Shawn Marion, who missed the game with a sore left knee. Beaubouis scored the first two Dallas baskets, an alley-oop dunk from Kidd on the opening shot, then an 11-foot jumper that put Dallas ahead to stay after Green's dunk made it 2-2.
"He's stepped up this entire homestand," Terry said. "He kind of controlled Tony Parker. He was pretty darned good."
San Antonio had scored at least 112 points in five consecutive games, winning four of them. ... The Mavericks finish March with five of seven games on the road. That includes Friday at San Antonio, their last regular-season meeting against the Spurs. ... Kidd, whose 1,302 regular season games played is the most among active players, matches Elvin Hayes for 11th on the all-time list in his next game. ... Jackson had five points while playing 16 minutes in his first game back with the Spurs, whom he also played with from 2001-03.