DENVER – What happened to one of the great closers in NBA history during the fourth quarter of Thursday’s down-to-the-wire loss?
Dirk Nowitzki essentially disappeared on the offensive end in the final dozen minutes.
Nowitzki didn’t score a single point in the final frame of the 95-94 loss to the Nuggets. He attempted only two shots in the quarter. His biggest impact play was a turnover with 19.9 seconds left.
What did the Nuggets do to shut down Dirk?
“Just front me in the post,” said Nowitzki, who finished the game with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting. “I did have one catch down there and shot a fadeaway. I should have made a stronger move than that. Other than that, just front me, backside help. That was really about it.”
Not coincidentally, the Mavs’ offense was miserable in the fourth quarter, scoring only 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting.
Nowitzki got one really good look … and somehow airballed a straightway 3 with 10:33 remaining. He didn’t get another shot until his failed fadeaway with 46.8 seconds to go.
Coach Rick Carlisle tried to give Dirk a chance to deliver the dagger, but that turned into disaster. With the Mavs clinging to a one-point lead, Dallas ran an isolation play for Nowitzki near the top of the key, but ex-Mav Corey Brewer swiped the ball when Nowitzki made a spin move.
“I thought actually I could quick dribble it and spin before Brewer gets the ball,” Nowitzki said. “I saw him right there, but as soon as I put it down, he’s so quick. That’s what he does. He dove in there and got his hands on it. At that point, probably the wrong move. It was so clogged, the only thing I had was just the spot-up shot. I probably should have just shot over him.”
It was clogged because the Mavs had poor spacing on the play. Instead of overloading one side to give Dirk room to work, the Mavs had two players on each side of the court.
“That’s on me,” Carlisle said. “It’s a case of, yeah, we always want to get him the ball when we can. When we can’t, he affects the game in a way that helps other guys get shots. That’s when we need other guys to step up.”
Nowitzki was not involved in the play when the Mavs had a chance to win the game on the final possession, standing on the opposite side of the court while Anthony Morrow’s desperation 3-pointer got blocked.
A few more notes from yet another frustrating Mavs loss:
1. Final failure: With 2.8 seconds remaining and the Mavs trailing by one, Carlisle didn’t want rarely used reserve Anthony Morrow shooting a contested 3-pointer off the dribble. That’s what happened, with Brewer blocking Morrow’s shot.
What did Carlisle want in that situation?
“Not what happened,” Carlisle said. “Again, I’m responsible for that. That’s as far as I’m going to go with it.”
Nowitzki, who had a nice view from the opposite side of the court, shed some light on what was supposed to happen.
“The play was for Vince (Carter) coming off and curling to the corner, but Andre Miller was right there and took that away,” Nowitzki said. “(Morrow) ran a circle and came back up, wasn’t really free but tried to make the best out of it and got a shot up and got it blocked.”
2. Brewer’s big game: Brewer, whom the Mavs traded to Denver along with Rudy Fernandez for a 2016 second-round pick in a salary-dump deal before last season, torched his former team.
Brewer scored 23 points in 35 minutes off the bench, stepping up after small forward Danilo Gallinari suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury in the second quarter.
Brewer also made three critical plays in the final 19.9 seconds: stealing the ball from Nowitzki, grabbing the offensive rebound to make Andre Iguodala’s game-winning drive possible and blocking Morrow’s shot.
“He’s a good player,” Nowitzki said. “You’ve got to give him credit. He played well.”
3. Foul night for Mayo: It’s never good to finish with more fouls than points. That was the case for O.J. Mayo, who matched a season low with four points and fouled out for only the fifth time in his career.
Mayo picked up his fourth foul 58 seconds after halftime and sat out the rest of the third quarter. He was whistled for his fifth foul 54 seconds into the fourth quarter and fouled out on an and-1 pull-up jumper by Andre Miller with 1:48 remaining.
“You’re going to have nights like that,” Mayo said. “You try to play hard even though you have some fouls, try to stay aggressive, but the whistles didn’t go my way tonight.”