DALLAS -- Several players in the Mavericks-Spurs series have Hall of Fame résumés and, one by one, they’ve flashed the greatness that should grant them basketball immortality in Springfield, Massachusetts.
With one exception.
We’re still waiting for that great game, or even that great moment, from Dirk Nowitzki after the teams split their four contests.
Tim Duncan, widely considered the premier power forward in NBA history, dominated during the series opener. He scored 27 points, a third of which came during the fourth quarter, in the Spurs’ Game 1 win -- during which San Antonio fought back from a 10-point deficit.
Spurs point guard Tony Parker, a three-time champion and six-time All-Star, also delivered on Easter Sunday. He had 21 points and six assists in San Antonio’s first victory.
San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, another three-time champ and arguably the best sixth man ever to fill that role, was the Spurs’ only real bright spot in Game 2 (27 points) and starred in their Game 4 win, scoring 23 points and dishing out five assists.
Ginobili would have been the Game 3 hero if Mavs sixth man Vince Carter, the No. 25 scorer in NBA history and an eight-time All-Star, had not one-upped him. Coming just 1.7 ticks after Ginobili’s go-ahead runner, Carter's buzzer-beating 3 from the deep-left corner is the series’ most memorable moment so far.
Mavs forward Shawn Marion has been the versatile key to the Mavs’ defense all series, spending time defending each of the Spurs’ Big Three. He also lit it up for 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the Mavs’ Game 2 rout on the road. (There’s significantly more room for debate about Marion’s Hall of Fame credentials than the others, but this is a heck of a case: He’s a four-time All-Star; he joins Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett as the only players with at least 17,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 1,500 blocks and 1,000 steals for his career; and he played a critical role during the Mavs’ 2011 title run.)
What about Nowitzki?
"I don’t think we’ve stopped Dirk by any means," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, another surefire Hall of Famer.
The Spurs have done a better job defending him in this series than any of the previous foes in Nowitzki’s 13 postseason appearances.
The No. 10 scorer in NBA history is struggling through the worst statistical series of his career, averaging 16 points on 38.5 percent shooting. It’s not much fun to be the focal point of Pop’s defensive game plans.
It’s not that Nowitzki hasn’t contributed to the Mavs' two wins. It’s just that so much more is expected of a legend who joins Duncan on the list of 12 players in NBA history to have earned double-digit All-Star appearances, an MVP and a Finals MVP.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, another potential Hall of Famer, accepts responsibility for needing to figure out ways to get his best player better shots. The other Mavs put the onus on themselves to take advantage of the defensive attention the Spurs pay Nowitzki.
But the Mavs remain confident that it’s a matter of time before the big German’s greatness shines through in this series.
"He is who he is," Carter said.
Nowitzki is the one Hall of Fame candidate on the Mavs and Spurs rosters who has yet to leave his mark on this series. There’s no better time to change that than in the pivotal Game 5.