DALLAS – Friday’s game between the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies was only 18 seconds old when the immortal Dirk Nowitzki produced the Play of the Game.
The 21-year veteran casually took a feed from Courtney Lee on the right side of the key, saw an opening as wide as White Rock Lake, and stormed to the basket for a two-handed tomahawk dunk. But this just wasn’t an ordinary dunk in the dog days of an 82-game season in a game the Mavs eventually lost to the Grizzlies, 122-112.
It was Nowitzki’s first dunk of the season. And afterwards, his teammates went bonkers on the bench.
“The play was actually drawn up for something else earlier in the possession,” Nowitzki said. “After that, (Lee) just swung the ball and set a pick-n-roll and I slipped in and C. Lee obviously hit me on the roll on a great pass, and I thought it’s now or never.
“I put all the energy in there I could in my right leg and squeezed it over the rim. It’s definitely a highlight of my season.”
With the loss, the Mavs fell to 31-48 on the season. However, with Luka Doncic (right thigh contusion), Dwight Powell (load management) and Jalen Brunson (load management) sitting this one out, the Mavs weren’t exactly at full strength.
Still, the dunk by Nowitzki got the Mavs and the American Airlines Center sellout crowd of 20,111 all riled up and in a good mood.
“I was so happy with myself I didn’t know what to do,” Nowitzki said. “I didn’t know whether I should stay there and slap the glass. . .I was just hanging there for a second, and then I had to sprint back, so I didn’t really see what the bench was doing.
“It was a good start for us, but overall just not good enough today against a team that played really hard and took us apart at times. But yeah, I had a dunk.”
Thanks to 10 points by Justin Jackson and seven by Lee, the Mavs led, 30-21, late in the first quarter. But Memphis scored the last 10 points of the opening quarter and 14 of the first 19 points of the second quarter and sprinted out to a 45-35 lead.
The Grizzlies went on to led, 65-53, at the half and by as much as 22 points (86-64) midway through the third quarter before the Mavs got as close as 10 points on three occasions in the fourth quarter.
“We just didn’t play hard enough,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I think that was the bottom line, and it was similar to the last time we played these guys (when Memphis won, 111-81, on Mar. 2).
“They just played with more force from start to finish. They beat us to rebounds (50-42) and they shot it better. They were just more aggressive.”
Lee tallied a season-high 21 points and added seven assists to pace the Mavs, Jackson finished with 19 points and six assists, Trey Burke scored 13 points, Salah Mejri contributed 12 points, five rebounds, a career-high five assists and three blocks, Nowitzki collected 12 points and seven boards, and Daryl Macon had 11 points.
“I was just trying to be aggressive within the offense,” said Lee, who was 9-of-15 from the field. “I’m not trying to force too much.
“I’m trying to go out there and be in attack mode from start to finish.”
That’s the exact offensive philosophy Nowitzki followed – be in attack mode from start to finish. And his magnetic start – that unforgettable dunk that brought down the house – just added one more chapter to his legendary career.
When Nowitzki went to the bench for good to a thunderous standing ovation – with 4:20 remaining in the game — he knew he had reached one of the goals of getting at least one dunk this season after having one last season and two dunks two seasons ago.
“He sure is turning back the clock, baby,” Grizzlies forward Justin Holiday said. “Dirk is a legend.
“You have to understand he has to really work for that, so give him some credit.”
“I guess I had some chances earlier in the year (to get a dunk), but I didn’t really ever have a running start like today,’ Nowitzki said. “And today was just perfect.
“They didn’t tag me on the (pick and) roll, I was there and I had a running start off the one good leg I still own, so it worked out perfect.”
NOTES: Several media outlets are reporting that former NBA coach Bill Fitch will finally be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. And that’s good news to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who has been rallying for some time for the Hall to induct Fitch. “I don’t know if it’s been confirmed, but I’ve heard it from a lot of different places now, so it sounds pretty certain,” Carlisle said. “If that is the case, it’s just so well deserved for a guy that gave 25 years of his life to being a head coach in this league. He took five franchises really from the depths of either a beginning expansion or a deep lottery to either the Conference Finals, (NBA) Finals, or NBA championship. When you look at his record and what he accomplished, he may be the only person that’s ever done that, and he always took over teams that were very down. I’m glad that the Hall has recognized the magnitude of what he contributed to the game.” Fitch’s induction is personal for Carlisle, who played for and coached with Fitch. “I certainly have a lot to thank him for personally,” Carlisle said. “He gave me my last shot as a player (in 1989). There weren’t a lot of people lining up for that. I got my first opportunity to coach with him (in 1989) for three years, and learned an awful lot about game preparation and how to approach things. The guy is an absolute encyclopedia on the game. Larry Bird said many times that ‘Bill Fitch is the best coach I’ve ever had,’ which is really saying something because Bird had some great coaches in high school, college and the pros. He’s an amazing man and one of the most respected people I’ve ever met in the game in 34 years.”. .Point guard Luka Doncic missed Friday’s game against Memphis due to a right thigh contusion. It’s the third time in the last four games that Doncic has missed with the same injury. Doncic sat out games last Sunday and Monday against Oklahoma City and Philadelphia, respectively. But he returned Wednesday and finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds against Minnesota, although Carlisle said he wasn’t moving the way he normally moves. “He wanted to play the last game, he said he was feeling good,” Carlisle said. “It was pretty clear that he wasn’t. He had a little pain and discomfort yesterday, so we said, ‘Hey, we’re going to hold you out tonight and see where we are on Sunday.’ “. .With the seven defensive rebounds he picked up on Friday, Dirk Nowitzki is now just one defensive rebound shy of having 10,000 defensive rebounds for his career. The only other players on that illustrious list are Kevin Garnett (11,453), Karl Malone (11.406), Tim Duncan (11,232) and Robert Parish (10,117).