It’s been a season for the ages — quite literally — for Dirk Nowitzki.
The German became just the fifth 37-year-old in league history to average at least 18 points per game in the regular season. That rarity and transcendence has carried over into the postseason, as well, where Nowitzki’s 19.5 points per game in the 2016 playoffs can be matched by only two other players in NBA history.
Today The Wall Street Journal declared his patented one-legged fade the most-stolen move in the NBA — a valid claim, considering we’ve seen no less than two Thunder players test it out in this series alone. If you polled all the players who have admitted over the years to mimicking the move, I bet if they’d admit if they had their druthers, though, they would rather steal Nowitzki’s legendary longevity, consistency, and efficiency. His 27-point, eight-rebound performance in Game 4 gave the Mavericks a chance to stay competitive during a game in which Oklahoma City’s supporting cast carried much more than a small portion of the load for superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, both of whom have added the one-legged fade to their repertoire.
With his injury-plagued Mavericks down 3-1 with Game 5 tonight in Oklahoma City, it will take a few more classic Nowitzki performances to pull Dallas out of this hole and into the next round. Even if the Thunder defeat the Mavs tonight, thereby eliminating Dallas from the playoffs, we already have a fitting lasting image of the German: After playing 40 minutes in his pearl of a performance in Game 4, frustrated and having to fight just to walk off the floor after suffering a bone bruise in his knee early in Game 2, Dirk still gave a couple kids a high-five.
Obviously the hope is that would not be the last time Nowitzki plays a game at American Airlines Center this season. Despite all their injuries — some significant — the Mavericks still believe they can win Game 5 and bring the series back home to Dallas. To do so, it goes without saying their superstar will probably have to outshine the Thunder’s. That’s a tall order for any player, but Nowitzki has proven before he’s up to the challenge. He’s not doing it alone in this series, either, aided by explosive scoring from Raymond Felton and Wesley Matthews.
The longer this series goes, the greater the chances are that the German will continue to climb even higher up the ladder of legends. Nowitzki needs just four points tonight to pass Scottie Pippen (3,642) for 14th place on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list, and the German needs 63 to move past Magic Johnson, one of the greatest players and champions in the history of this sport. Unless the German channels his inner Kobe Bryant tonight, it’s hard to imagine him going off for 63, but if the Mavs steal Game 5, Dirk could potentially do it in Game 6. At any rate, it’s hard to bet against him leaping past Johnson as soon as next season.
Before all is said and done in his incredible career, Nowitzki could conceivably climb into the top-10 on the playoff scoring list and the top-five on the regular season scoring list. That would be some feat.
None of those future accolades matter right now to Nowitzki, of course. All he and the Mavericks are concerned with is tonight’s Game 5, no matter who’s available and who isn’t. Dallas grabbed a win in Game 2, the last time these teams met at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The atmosphere is sure to be wild once again, but if the Mavs can repeat their Game 2 performance, not only will the series come back to Dallas, but we’ll get another chance to see Nowitzki solidifying his place in history one careful, calculated step at a time.