The Miami Heat defeated the Dallas Mavericks 105-99 at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thursday.
This was the last time Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki will play against each other. Wade already said he plans to retire at the end of the season, while Nowitzki is widely expected to join him in retirement despite not openly leaning one way or the other.
The Heat's victory ensures Wade has bragging rights in perpetuity.
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Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki will likely meet for the 35th and final time including the playoffs tonight. The future Hall-of-Famers are among the most decorated players of all-time and have produced similar career accomplishments, and they're 17-17 against each other. https://t.co/ekoVZtJ2dR
Wade finished with 11 points and four steals off the bench, while Nowitzki scored 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
After Dallas cut the deficit to two points with 21.9 seconds remaining, Wade scored Miami's final four points, including a steal and breakaway layup that helped seal the victory with 7.9 seconds left.
Legacy of Dirk vs. D-Wade Rivalry Will Grow with Passage of Time
For the most part, the NBA's legendary player rivalries are forged in the postseason—Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird, Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain or Michael Jordan vs. Isiah Thomas, to name a few.
Because they've played in opposite conferences for the entirety of their careers, Nowitzki and Wade only crossed paths twice in the playoffs: the 2006 and 2011 NBA Finals.
Those two series make up a major part in how Nowitzki and Wade will be remembered.
Teaming up with Shaquille O'Neal to win an NBA title in his third season was a star-making moment for Wade. Without that championship, it's fair to wonder whether the Big Three era comes together in South Beach.
Along the same lines, losing the 2011 Finals to the Mavericks helped lay the groundwork for what was to come from Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh over the next three years.
On the other side, falling to the Heat in 2006 threatened to color Nowitzki's legacy forever. That Dallas team won 60 games and beat the San Antonio Spurs and Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns before falling at the final hurdle. The following season, the Mavs won 67 games but lost to the Golden State Warriors in the first round.
Nowitzki famously threw a trash can through a wall at Oracle Arena after his team dropped Game 6 to exit the playoffs. Then came his redemption, which had to feel particularly sweet after Wade said in 2007 that Dallas dropped the 2006 Finals because Nowitzki "wasn't the leader that he's supposed to be in the closing moments."
By finally capturing a championship five years later, Nowitzki silenced his critics.
Assuming they both retire this offseason, Nowitzki and Wade would almost certainly enter the Hall of Fame in the same year. They both deserve induction on the first ballot, thus providing yet another link between the two.
Nowitzki wasn't a central antagonist in Wade's career and vice versa. Over time, however, the respective roles they played for one another at pivotal moments have become more and more clear.
The Heat head to the Big Apple for a game against the New York Knicks on Saturday. The Mavericks wrap up their brief two-game road trip Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.