Before this season started, Dirk Nowitzki said the part of his game he's most proud of at this stage of his career is his late-game prowess. He said in the early days Steve Nash or Michael Finley, and then even Nick Van Exel, took the big shots with the game on the line.
These days there's arguably no one better in the league producing in the clutch than Nowitzki. He made that perfectly clear in the NBA Finals -- Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem will attest to that, and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle continues to put the ball in his big man's hands when the game is on the line.
Nowitzki continued his game-winning dominance with Wednesday's drive-and-finish despite getting dropped to the floor by Celtics forwards Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett. The three-point play gave Dallas an 88-85 lead with 5.1 seconds to play. Nowitzki scored nine of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, another fourth that showed how much the Mavs depend one of the game's most difficult covers to take over in the final frame.
"It’s a fun situation to be in," said Nowitzki, who needs three points to reach 23,000 for his career. "Everybody’s looking at you and your team really depends on you so I like to be in the position where I can make something happen. It doesn’t always have to be a shot, but just to make a play for my teammates and it's been going pretty good."
These numbers from ESPN Stats & Info highlight the Mavs' reliance on Nowitzki's fourth-quarter production:
Nowitzki took over for the Mavericks in the fourth quarter by going to his isolation game. Nowitzki scored nine of the Mavericks’ 22 fourth-quarter points, five of which came on isolation sets. This season, the Mavericks have run isolation plays for Nowitzki more than twice as often in the fourth quarter compared to the first three. Among the 50 players who have at least 20 isolation plays this season, Nowitzki ranks third in field-goal percentage (52.6).