Dirk Nowitzki had a lot of those if-you-weren’t-there-you-blew-it moments in his legendary career.
Most of the signature events happened in the playoffs, but not all of them.
Of the 1,522 regular-season games Dirk Nowitzki played in his 21 seasons with the Mavericks, perhaps the most memorable of them all was on Dec. 2, 2004.
If you were there, you won’t ever forget it.
It was supposed to be nothing more than a garden-variety game in the first few weeks of the season. The Mavericks were 10-6 at the time, the Houston Rockets were 6-10.
It turned out to be a massive, blazing game of can-you-top-this.
For a player to have one of those legendary regular-season games, he needs a foil and for Nowitzki, it was Tracy McGrady.
T-Mac would score 48 points in the Mavericks’ 113-106 overtime win.
And yet, he got completely upstaged by Nowitzki, who would pour in 53 points, the most he would ever score in a game in his career.
OK, maybe not completely. It was a remarkable point fiesta between two of the best pure scorers in the game during the early 2000s. Nowitzki would go on to finish fourth in the NBA in scoring in 2004-05 at 26.1 points per game. McGrady would be sixth at 25.7 points.
The pair would go on to meet in the first round of the playoffs, with Nowitzki and the Mavericks prevailing in seven games.
Nobody knew on that early December night at American Airlines Center that they were going to see one of the greatest scoring exhibitions of that or any other season.
Two players, each playing 49 minutes in the overtime game, combining for 101 points.
You don’t see that every day. In fact, while tracking down the list of player tandems that have combined for the most points in a game is no easy task, we do have proof of some of the best outputs ever by two players in the same game.
Wilt Chamberlain, of course, scored 100 points in 1962 and Richie Guerin had 39 in that game, so 139 combined points will stand as the record.
Plus, when Kobe Bryant scored 81 points against Toronto in 2006, Mike James had 26 points for a total of 107. Also, Bryant and Gilbert Arenas combined for 105 when Arenas had 60 in a game against the Lakers while he was at Washington.
The point is that it doesn’t happen very often.
What Nowitzki and McGrady did was trade punches the way heavyweight boxers do.
In the first quarter, Nowitzki had 10 points and was outscored by three by McGrady. They both had a dozen points in the second quarter as the Mavericks went ahead by five points. Both players were over 30 points by the end of three quarters.
But in the fourth quarter, they went at each other. Nowitzki scored 13 points and McGrady had 11. At the end of regulation, Nowitzki had 43 points, McGrady 42.
But it was in the overtime that Nowitzki put his stamp on the greatest offensive game in franchise history.
He scored the first 10 points of the overtime and the Mavericks cruised from there. Both teams would go on to fabulous regular seasons before meeting in the playoffs.
By the way, Nowitzki did not shoot the ball particularly well that game. He was 15-of-32 from the field. However, he did hit 21-of-22 free throws and the Mavericks were plus-12 when he was on the court.
Interestingly, McGrady was a zero in the plus-minus department, which is impressive when you consider his team lost by seven points and he played all but four minutes of the game. McGrady tacked on nine rebounds and nine assists to his statistical line and also had two steals and three blocked shots.
Nowitzki? He supported his 53 points with 16 rebounds, two assists, three steals and four blocks.
Among the players on that Houston roster: former Mavericks Juwan Howard and Jim Jackson.
And for the Mavericks? Josh Howard, Erick Dampier, Devin Harris and Marquis Daniels made up the rest of the starting five. Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse were the primary bench players.
They all had a front-row seat for one of the most special nights in a career filled with them for Nowitzki.