A few hours before Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, before Dirk Nowitzki put on a playoff performance for the ages, ESPN sports analyst Skip Bayless was leading the Dirk and Mavs doubters.
What else was new?
Skip tweeted, "Dirk: star who isn't leader. Good teammate but doesn't make them better. Best 7ft shooter ever, but big shots? He said Jet their closer."
"Dirk has never been soft physically - often plays hurt. But questionable mental toughness in playoffs, esp. '06 Finals up 2-0 w/ lead in G3."
"I like OKC to win tonite and series b/c of what GKarl said before playoffs. Remember? He wanted his Nuggets to play Dallas instead of OKC....GKarl said OKC more athletic than Mavs and that OKC had TWO stars. He said Mavs strength was also weakness: By far best jumpshooting team."
So what did Dirk do? The guy who Skip just said has "questionable mental toughness" in the playoffs responded with one of the best big-time performances in NBA playoff history.
The guy who Skip said is not a leader led his team to a come-from-behind win, scoring 48 points on a record-low 15 shot attempts, making a playoff record 24 consecutive free throws after a nine-day layoff that had most Mavs shaking off the rust in the first quarter. He also had six rebounds, four assists and four blocks.
The guy who Skip said shies away from big shots scored eight points in the final 2:31 after OKC had closed the gap to six points. That included two big jumpers.
Those were big shots, Skip, similar to the one Dirk made in the fourth quarter of the close Game 3 win against the Lakers when he put the Mavs ahead to stay with 1:23 left.
Or how about Dirk making a jumper and two free throws in the final 40 seconds of Game 1 against LA that pulled the Mavs from a three-point deficit to a one-point advantage? Did Dirk shy from the big shots there, Skip? What series were you watching, if you were at all?
Dirk hit many more big fourth-quarter shots in wins in Games 3 and 4. Were you watching, Skip? Let me recount for you: In Game 4, after OKC held a 15-point lead with just five minutes left, Dirk scored 12 of his team's last 17 points, including two free throws with six seconds left to tie the game at 101. In Game 3, after a sub-par first three quarters, Dirk scored 10 of the Mavs' 23 fourth-quarter points to help hold off the Thunder.
So why is Skip such a doubter when it comes to the Mavs and Dirk? Why does he gush over KDurant and DRose, who haven't won near as many big games as Dirk?
This from Skip on the same day he downplays Dirk's accomplishments: "Give me KDurant over DRose, LeBron next 10 years. So much bigger, better shooter than Rose. Better leader, big-game player than LeBron."
What exactly has Durant done to deserve such praise? Sure, he has a lot of potential, but has he ever been to even a Western Conference finals before? Prior to this year, he hadn't even led his team out of the first round of the playoffs. This is Dirk's third Western Conference finals.
When Skip worked for the Dallas Times Herald, he was a fairly good journalist and columnist who at least made an effort to do his homework. But on Dirk and the Mavs this year, when he has a chance to help change Dallas' image in the national media, he brings up these tired cliches of the past.
And he makes up self-serving excuses why teams like OKC who he picks to win lose to the Mavs. The Game 1 loss was because Sefolosha wasn't guarding Dirk. Game 3? It was the Westbrook "issue - when Westbrook sat in the fourth quarter of Game 2 - that "drained" the young Thunder. The Game 4 choke job by the Thunder was due to the officials making bad calls. If it wasn't so sad about a 50-something man making juvenile excuses, it would be hilarious.
Skip picks the Mavs to lose because that is fashionable among the New York and national media elite, though it is getting to be less so the longer the Mavs last in the playoffs this year. Skip doesn't recognize how much Dirk wants a ring this year, how more confident he is alongside a tough-minded center like Tyson Chandler.
All Dirk had to help him inside in previous playoff runs were Erick Dampier and Shawn Bradley.
I think there is something deeper in Skip's outright rooting against, and dishonest commentary towards, the Mavs. He recently admitted on his show that he "hates" Mark Cuban. That's like a White House reporter saying publicly he "hates" Obama. Unless that reporter is working for Fox News or the Washington Times, he won't be covering the White House anymore.
Still, Skip is allowed to spout his misguided hatred toward Cuban and Mavs on ESPN. ESPN is fast losing my respect.