DALLAS – The tributes kept pouring in all night long for Dirk Nowitzki. So did a slew of baskets from Nowitzki.
Prior to officially announcing his retirement from the NBA on Tuesday night following the Dallas Mavericks’ 120-109 triumph over the Phoenix Suns, Nowitzki used every ounce in his 40-year old body to pour in a season-high 30 points and grab eight rebounds. On a night set up to celebrate his illustrious 21-year career – all with the Mavs — Nowitzki didn’t disappoint.
From the moment the game started, all the way to the end, Nowitzki kept the sellout crowd of 21,041 on their feet praising his every move, going ballistic over his every basket, and shouting to the top of their lungs every time he hopped off the bench to enter the game.
Afterwards, Nowitzki said the idea to announce his retirement only surfaced the past three days. But after much soul-searching with family members and confidants, he knew he had reached the end of the (NBA) rainbow.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Nowitzki said. “I think I was struggling this year with my (injured) foot – that’s no secret. It’s just not being where it needs to be to compete at a high level for 82 games.
“I had a lot of treatment over the course of the season – injections. But it doesn’t make any sense any more to do that for another season, even though I would love to be there.”
Nowitzki will play his final game when the Mavs face the Spurs in San Antonio on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Meanwhile, coach Rick Carlisle acknowledged that it hasn’t hit him yet that the last chapter (on the court) on Nowitzki’s sterling career will be written on Wednesday.
“It will (sink in) in time,” Carlisle said. “I believe this is a situation where you have a man who has all of these human qualities.
“He is humble, he is kind, he is great, he is a competitor, and he has been a guy who is too easy to take for granted. It will never be the same without him. It just won’t.”
Nowitzki made sure his last home game was a memorable one. He was firing on all cyclinders and turning back the clock to the days when he was a 14-time All-Star.
With his adrenaline flowing, Nowitzki scored Tuesday’s first points on a 21-foot jumper just 33 seconds after the game started. From there he popped in a 3-pointer, busted loose for a fadeaway 13-footer, and drilled another 3-pointer.
In all, with 9:02 remaining in the first quarter it was Nowitzki 10, the Suns eight, as he put up the first eight shots the Mavs attempted against Phoenix.
“The guys got together and obviously made a pact that they were going to get him as many shots as possible,” Carlisle said. “I think he scored the first 10 points of the game, which is pretty much what happened at Golden State two-and-a-half weeks ago.
“When you have a night like this and you get the energy in the building and you get guys who want to see him have one of those nights – which he did, he scored 30 points, which is amazing – the game gets a little rag tag and before you know it the (Mavs’ 32) point lead turns into five.”
Rookie Luka Doncic, who collected his eighth triple-double, saved the Mavs down the stretch with some key baskets. Doncic finished with 21 points, a career-high tying 16 rebounds and 11 assists and gained even more respect for how the fans treated Nowitzki during this farewell celebration.
“It was something special,” Doncic said. “He totally deserved it. I was emotional.
“I think the whole team was emotional, so I imagine he was. It was a great day. He deserves all of it.”
Doncic said he had a plan going into the game on how may points he wanted Nowitzki to score.
“I was hoping he would score at least 41,” Doncic said. “That would be something special.
“The whole team tried to feed him. He has a lot of points in the NBA. I think he had a great time.”
Guard J. J. Barea, who underwent season-ending surgery on Jan. 14 to repair the rupture of his right Achilles tendon, said his mother was trying to petition him to find a way to play in Nowitzki’s last home game.
“My mom joked whether I could dress for the game tonight, get a uniform on and give (Nowitzki) a pass or something,” Barea said. “She was being serious — tell coach to put you in and give him a pass and get out.”
Nowitzki attempted 31 shots – three shy of his career high – and made 11 of them in a season-high 33 minutes. He also was 5-of-14 from the field in a game that had sort of a playoff feel to it.
There were chants of “We Want Dirk,’ and “MVP,” from the crowd. Indeed, much love was given to the No. 6 all-time leading scorer in NBA history.
By the time the Suns, unfortunately, double-teamed and denied Nowitzki one last shot at the basket as time expired, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf surprised Nowitzki by strolling onto the court for the post game celebration.
“I really had no idea what to expect,” Nowitzki said. “I knew obviously there was a celebration going on after the game, but they got me with the five guys coming out.
“I figured there would be some videos, and then I looked up there (at the Jumbotron) and they’re showing how I talked about these guys and I’m like, ‘Why are we doing this right now?’ Then I looked around the corner and I see Charles coming out first. That was an emotional moment when I saw all five of them. I was shocked, really.”
As the Mavs (33-48) prepare to turn the page and start molding another superstar to lean on, Nowitzki was left contemplating how the Mavs will stack up next season with Kristaps Porzingis and Doncic leading the charge. More importantly, he was left wondering how they will stack up next season without him on their roster for the first time since 1997.
“I would love to be for KP and Luka and all these young guys and have fun with them and mentor them again if I can,” Nowitzki said. “But it just doesn’t make any sense any more physically.
“I think mentally I can still do it. I always push myself to work out and work hard. But physically, the push is not quite there.”