DALLAS -- It almost felt like a playoff game in the fourth quarter Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.
The building was buzzing. The stakes were high. And Dirk Nowitzki was dominating.
That was all she wrote for the Rockets, whose playoff hopes are flickering after their fifth straight loss. The Mavs are one win away from punching their postseason ticket after a classic Dirk performance in the final dozen minutes of their 117-110 victory over the Houston Rockets.
Nowitzki scored 21 of his game-high 35 points in the final frame, hitting four of six shots from the floor and all 11 free throw attempts while the Mavs turned a six-point deficit into a seven-point victory.
The flashback to last postseason’s form made Nowitzki’s ugly first half easy to forget. He had a grand total of four points on 2-of-6 shooting at halftime.
Nowitzki knew his fortunes were changing as soon as his first shot of the second half fell. It was an off-balance stepback that he launched while being fouled by Luis Scola, and the ball bounced high off the back rim before tickling the twine.
“I got a good bounce,” Nowitzki said. “It was a little flat and the ball bounced five feet in the air and dropped in, so that obviously helps, to get a couple lucky bounces.”
Skill soon took over, with Nowitzki lighting it up for 31 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the second half.
The Mavs helped free Nowitzki by making a halftime adjustment. They scrapped the plan to try to feed him the ball in the post and opened up the offense, running a lot of pick-and-rolls and using the 7-footer as a floor spacer.
“He was able off movement to catch the ball and do some things, make plays,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “A lot of it is very much a random game, but it’s the kind of trust that we have in our players to make those plays. It’s harder stuff to guard if you can do it, if you can pull it off and if you can make good decisions. The first half we struggled with decision-making. In the second half, and in the fourth quarter in particular, we were terrific.”
And Nowitzki was spectacular in one of the most important quarters of the Mavs’ season.
“Once he hit those two 3s back-to-back, we felt he got his rhythm back,” Terry said, referring to 3-pointers Nowitzki hit on consecutive trips early in the quarter. “He just kept being aggressive.”
Nowitzki’s other two buckets in the fourth were layups off of back-cuts. He did the rest of his damage from the line, going 11-of-11 on freebies in the final 4:05 to put the finishing touches on the Rockets.
It was only the fourth time this season the Mavs won a game they trailed after three quarters, but it felt so familiar. It was like a flashback to last season’s championship run, when Nowitzki took over time and again when it was winning time.
The Mavs can only hope it’s also a sign of things to come, now that Nowitzki & Co. have all but assured they’ll get a chance to defend their title in the postseason.