Dirk Nowitzki and the Anatomy of a Comeback

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Dirk Nowitzki and the Anatomy of a Comeback
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I'll admit it: I'm a weak person. Not physically (well, okay, physically), but when it comes to my sports teams, I'm mentally weak. I hate seeing my rival teams win, and even more than that, I hate seeing my teams lose.

This has caused me to miss a number of fantastic comebacks, including the Red Sox walk-off win in game four of the 2004 ALCS and the dramatic game five win against Tampa in the 2008 ALCS.

Last night's amazing comeback against the Utah Jazz happened while I was two feet away from my computer blaring League Pass Broadband, passed out, and probably drooling all over myself.

I woke up to a scoreboard that gave me very good news and an e-mail from a fellow Mavs fan, saying it was the most exciting comeback she had ever seen.

Luckily, League Pass lets you watch old games, and as I killed time at the office watching the fourth quarter, I had to stop myself from weeping out of the sheer glory of what I saw.

Dirk Nowitzki pulled off a performance for the ages, and the fact that it came at home, against a good team, makes it all the sweeter.

And seriously, Dirk was absolutely unstoppable, driving to the hoop, hitting contested three-pointers, getting to the line, and surprisingly not shooting his mid-range jumper a whole lot.

The Mavs were down by 15 when the fourth quarter opened after suffering a 9-0 run to close the third, and the lead soon became sixteen, with the Mavs down 70-54.

The Mavericks were shooting 32 percent, while the Jazz were shooting 58 percent.

As recently as a week ago, as I wrote, that would have been it for the Mavs. Always a primarily jump-shooting team, the Mavs always seem to fade when the shots aren't falling.

But with a renewed commitment to defense, led by Shawn Marion, the Mavericks are starting to show that they don't have to outshoot the other team to win.

We'll start with the Mavs down 70-54 with 10:36 to go. At this point, the Jazz are getting stops and steals, and the Mavericks seem like they would be lucky to match the Jazz basket for basket.

But the Jazz only had 15 more points in them, while the Mavs had another 41 points, 29 of which would come from Dirk's hands.

But the foundation was laid in the first three minutes of the quarter, where the Jazz committed five fouls. For a team like the Mavericks, who shoot 28 FTs per game, and make 83 percent of them, that's not a recipe for success.

The other key foul-related play came with 5:12 remaining, when Carlos Boozer committed his fifth foul. All of a sudden, Mehmet Okur is the only one on the Jazz who can guard Dirk, and Okur plays defense as well as, well, Dirk.

Dirk gets out of his rhythm when he gets bumped by a Boozer-style big body, but the defenders who simply rely on blocks usually wind up on the business end of Dirk's one-legged Euro fadeaway.

The Jazz actually played this one pretty smart, they didn't give the game away, to their credit. They burned some shot clock, didn't take too many bad shots, and just went cold for too long. The Mavs' hands in their faces certainly didn't help matters much for them.

A key sequence occurred with 7:11 to go, one that provided a microcosm of exactly what the Mavs have improved upon on the offseason.

Deron Williams was shooting the ball, and Marion left his feet with Williams' pump fake. Williams made the smart move, tried to initiate the contact, and get a shot off with Marion in the air.

Only Marion is athletic enough to twist his body around so he makes little to no contact with Williams. On a play like that, the refs are just waiting to blow their whistle, except Marion made it impossible for them to do so.

When the Mavs got the ball, Dirk did the same thing, making Okur leave his feet, except Dirk did a much better job of initiating the contact, and he got the call.

Up to that point, the Jazz still kept it to double digits, but the Dirk couldn't be stopped. It was about a minute and a half after that when Boozer was whistled for his fifth foul, and Okur was switched to Dirk.

Instead of bodying up Dirk, they gave him space, and Dirk responded by putting on an offensive show that I haven't seen the likes of since LeBron dropped 48 on the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals.

He scored on everything. The Jazz couldn't stay in front of him, and by the time they started double teaming him, he was easily able to pass out of it.

Dirk was trailing the fast break, but crashing into the lane instead of waiting behind the arc.

Boozer kept the Jazz afloat with a couple of 20-footers, but that was all the offense the Jazz had left in the tank.

Dirk had more than enough to carry the Mavs over the top, and Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, and J.J. Barea were able to capitalize when the pressure on Dirk got too much.

Dirk's line at the end of the night? Oh, only 40 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, five (!!!) blocks, and two steals, that's all.

So basically, he did everything and more, and pretty much single-handedly won the game for the Mavs on a night when they were not shooting well.

And this didn't come against a team like the Timberwolves, like the 29-point comeback that happened last year, where the Mavs shouldn't have let it get out of control.

The Jazz are a good team. I think the Mavericks are better than the Jazz, and I did before the game, but the best team doesn't always win.

The Jazz have a good point guard and strong low-post presence, two things that have given the Mavs fits on defense in the past few seasons, but the Mavs were able to overcome.

Will Dirk be able to bail them out if it happens again? Probably not. But the Mavericks are showing the ability to hang with teams when the shot isn't falling. And with scorers like Dirk, Terry, Marion, and a healthy Howard coming off the bench, the shots are going to start falling.

And that's when the rest of the league really better look out. Because a hot Mavs team that all of a sudden can play defense should scare everyone, even the Lakers and the Spurs.

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