Mavs 96, Clips 92: Dirk's King Of The Hill
The other power forwards flock and fly and they may set their progression upon the back of all-around numbers that would leave even the faintest of fantasy enthusiasts slack-jawed and drooling, numbers Kevin Love has to give. Or, perhaps they scale the heights with a balanced, near complete offensive game, see LaMarcus Aldridge. Or they do it like Blake Griffin, who came to Dallas on Monday in a swarm of power and athleticism. All of them, born to live in 10-second highlight clips that draw the love of many, the admiration of even more.
For all the tools, for all the luster, the spectacle and the showmanship they bring, they come to rest short of the peak -- for now. For it is already occupied.
Minnesota, behind Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, appear on the cusp of growing into something special. The Blazers have moved on from Brandon Roy, handing their franchise to Aldridge, but the pieces aren't yet there. With the LA arrival of Chis Paul, who according to Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is the league's best point guard, the Los Angeles Clippers have seen their hopes soar.
Over the last three consecutive games, the 18-11 Mavs have faced all three of the power-forward-driven potentially powerhouse teams ... and come away unscathed, pushing their winning streak to four games, in large part behind the power forward who holds his place at the peak of his position.
The game look:
Our power forward of choice isn't the flashy choice. He'll never be the king of the YouTube era that feeds almost exclusively on brief moments of excellence held in the vacuum of an instant: a big dunk, an unbelievable cross over, a display of eye-catching athleticism.
Dirk Nowitzki is the best power forward in the league ... at least until someone can take that from him. Right now, he is the reigning Finals MVP. The mountain, and everyone still trying to climb it, regardless of how close to their clutches at his ankles may stretch, sits below Dirk's feet.
Dirk "done''? Allow us to chastise those who harbor such thoughts … We hang with Matt Mosley of the Galloway show on ESPN Radio, where Barkley was guilty of heresy …
Back on Friday, Dirk outdueled Kevin Love, scoring 33 points on 11-of-19 shooting as the Mavs distances themselves from the Wolves -- we know, Minnesota won the season series, but we also know whose hands we'd want the ball in at a game's most crucial instant. Beyond the shot that must come, there's also the fact that Dirk had four turnovers total over the past three games against these elite foes, compared to 10 from them.
On the second night of back-to-backs for both players, Aldridge may have come away with the statistical win, abusing anyone the Mavs put between him and the basket, including hitting two shots to tie the game at the end of regulation and the close the of first overtime.
But, the one trait both of those shots share, inherent in the fact that they tied the game, is the fact that his team was down when they were taken. When Dirk shrugged off his own misses in those same periods, as well as a disastrous second half of shooting, and drained his attempt in the final moments of the second overtime, he essentially put the game away.
Next up, Blake Griffin and the media's newest darlings. Perhaps no team will ever match the hype laid at the feet of the Miami Heat a season ago, but the Los Angeles Clippers and "Lob City" is as close as we may get.
Shawn Marion was given the unreasonable task of guarding Chris Paul, a point guard who has historically destroyed the Mavs (averaging his second highest career scoring total, 22.8, against any team in the league). On paper, Marion had no chance. In reality, he may have not been able to keep Paul in front of him consistently, but his length and ability to stay close enough clearly impacted the game. The 16 points and nine assists from Paul feel almost meek compared to what we've come to expect.
We called ‘Trix'' "Swiss'' earlier in the day, short for "Swiss Army Knife.'' It won't stick, but it still applies. Guarding CP3? Really? And then in the final two minutes picking the pockets of Griffin and then K-Mart for two huge Dallas takeaways? Yes, he's solidifying a bid for All-NBA Defense.
"Marion guarding Paul,'' Carlisle said, "was a big key to the game. ... This is one of the unique weapons we have on our team."
Griffin got his 20 points and seven rebounds, but behind his struggles at the free-throw line, where he missed his first seven attempts, Dallas briefly turning to "Hack-a-Griffin" … No, wait. … We're coining the phrase "Rake-a-Blake.'' © (You're welcome, NBA.). The Sooners standout finished 2-of-9 and was clearly flustered as the game reached its deciding point.
Involved in the big-man battle, too, was Dallas center Brendan Haywood, who had 10 early points (his game total) and nine rebounds and was pretty peppy in the postgame locker room for the DB.com Video Visit:
Meanwhile, Dirk – who we are happy to report is no longer wearing the sleeve on his balky knee -- struggled in the second half for the second consecutive game. And, for the second consecutive game, he put the first dagger into the hearts of the opponent. Big Wood caught a pass near the paint, resisted the urge to put the ball on the floor (appreciate the restraint, Brendan), and kicked it out to Dirk.
Once again, The UberMan let the ghosts of his struggles disappear in the light of the moment to rise and calmly drain the 19-foot jumper to put the Mavs up three with one minute to play. With 21.2 seconds, he stepped to a free-throw line that had been unusually unkind to him (missing four of 15 tries for the night) and drew nothing but net on both attempts ... allowing the Mavs to withstand a Chris Paul 3 four seconds later and hold onto a two-point lead.
Jason Kidd had been instrumental in directing the Mavs fourth-quarter play, creating easy points with precision passes, key rebounds and a big steal. Yet, with 9.8 seconds to play, he tried a full-court pass to Delonte West that Chris Paul deflected, causing the turnover. The ball found its way to old pal Caron Butler.
Butler had a game-high 23 points, but watched his 3-point attempt to give the Clippers the lead with seconds remaining bounce out. Delonte West grabbed the rebound, absorbed the intentional foul and sealed the victory with a pair of clutch free throws.
So Tuff Juice came away from Dallas mostly just with his new jewelry. (And with a lot of hugs and some passionate in-game heckling from Mark Cuban). DB.com has the from-the-floor video of the ceremony:
Back to Dirk, where the spotlight belongs. The UberMan scored 22 points on the night, but again came through when the win depended on it, scoring 11 of those points in the fourth quarter. While Griffin appeared shaken, shying from shots and broken at the free-throw line; Dirk buried the fact that he was 3-of-12 from the floor in the second half, hit the biggest shot of the game and shoved aside his earlier free-throw troubles to bury his final four, all coming in the final 1:37.
"He's the classic case of a great player, and you just stay the course,'' Carlisle said. "I played with Larry Bird for three years, and there were nights he'd go 2-of-13 and then hit the last three shots to win the game. Dirk's the same kind of guy. One thing he's done better and better as his career has gone one: he just keeps playing, he doesn't get frustrated, let's the game come to him, and he attacks.
"Dirk's one of the best ever," Carlisle added, "so he's not going to miss shots forever."
And now, again, the Clippers can attest to that, just as so many before them.
There are a lot of reasons for Jason Terry to say,"I'll take us over anybody in a fourth-quarter type ballgame and I believe we'll come out winning more times than not." But No. 41 is the main reason.
Dirk wanted the ball. With the game on the line, he wanted to decide it. There was no fear, no apprehension. No thought given to the shots that had failed to find their mark. In their place were his feet on the top of the mountain, shoving down another who came for his crown.
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