DALLAS -- With the buffer between Dirk Nowitzki and the most ignominious first-round exit in NBA history down to about three minutes, Nowitzki had a whopping total of two shots in the second half.
At last, an MVP-worthy effort
With his team down by 9 and just three minutes left to somehow overturn that deficit and stave off the coldest, harshest reception for the (presumed) Most Valuable Player that this league has ever seen, Nowitzki had rung up two field-goal attempts in the two biggest quarters of his season.
Neither of them coming in the fourth quarter.
"Obviously," Nowitzki conceded, "it didn't look great there."
Yet it turns out that three minutes, for the likely MVP-to-be, is still a lot of time, even after roughly 237 minutes of misery, confusion and frustration in his Round 1 nightmare. He waited until just about the last possible moment, true, but Nowitzki finally rebounded late Tuesday night, when the Dallas Mavericks reeled off the final 15 points of their win-or-melt Game 5 against the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors with Nowitzki supplying 12 of them to secure a 118-112 victory.
Back-to-back triples with the Warriors up 112-103. Six clinching free throws after his 3s. Nowitzki also tossed in a big rejection of a Matt Barnes layup and a fortuitous closeout on a Jason Richardson 3-pointer -- which the Warriors contend was a foul -- as part of a Dallas defensive stand that double-teamed the ball out of Baron Davis' hands and blanked Golden State on its final seven possessions.
With the upstarts from Oakland seemingly on the brink of clinching a No. 8-topples-No. 1 upset for the ages, Nowitzki uncorked all that in the final 3:07 to cut the Warriors' series lead to 3-2. Which also answered the coach who publicly chided his star just 24 hours earlier for being "too discouraged" by Golden State's dogged defense on him.
What's Avery Johnson saying now?
"Now," Johnson insisted, "there's a lot of pressure on them."
More Avery: "They got 10,000 pounds on their right arms right now."
Hold on, Li'l General. We'll have to see about that.
Johnson sounded more hopeful than convincing with those claims after the Warriors easily sliced an early 21-point deficit to 7 by halftime and riddled Dallas with a franchise-record 16 triples of their own. They might have KO'd the 67-win hosts in five games if Dallas -- on top of Nowitzki's awakening and some long-awaited penetration from Devin Harris that accounted for 11 more points in the fourth -- didn't also get 20 must-have bonus points from two guys who almost never provide them: DeSagana Diop (11) and Austin Croshere (nine).
Don't forget, furthermore, that the mighty Mavs can only force Game 7 by winning Thursday's Game 6 at raucous Oracle Arena. So even if these Warriors lack a pedigree for series clinching, I'm agreeing more with Don Nelson's postgame reading than Johnson's, given that Dallas' 53-32 lead in Game 5 still required a virtually flawless finish to stay alive.
"The pressure's on everybody," Nelson said.
While it remains just one loss away from becoming the first team in NBA annals to win at least 65 games and suffer a first-round elimination/humiliation, Dallas would certainly appear to have one fewer significant worry than it did Tuesday morning.
That's because Nowitzki's second season has finally started: 30 points and 12 boards, including 14-for-15 shooting from the line.
Maybe the Mavs -- and Nowitzki specifically -- were destined to start the playoffs just as they started the regular season and finished last season. With four dreadful games.
At least that's what Mark Cuban wants to believe, convinced that the under-fire German's recovery to continue with a road win that forces a Game 7 back here Saturday.
"Any time we fall short, any time something doesn't go right, it's always, 'What's up with Dirk,'" Cuban said about an hour before tip-off. "I'll take what's up with Dirk every time, through thick and thin every time.
"The fact that you're able to question that about Dirk, it shows that he's taken that responsibility any number of times and never shirked it. That's the kind of guy you want."
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Mavs owner Mark Cuban welcomed Game 5 with open arms. Some moments during the game left him appearing a little less carefree.
Henry Abbott (5/2/2007 at 1:00 AM): I watched and re-watched Baron's last foul. That was pretty lame. Jason Terry not getting tossed, and Stephen Jackson getting tossed that was all wrong from how it looked on TV. You wish it hadn't happened that way.
But this was a great game. The whole thing was on fire. A million highlights. It would be a shame to remember this game for the referees, because both teams had real chances to win. One thing that really shocked me: Golden State passed up good looks with the game on the line. Baron, Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson -- they all did. Not like them at all.
Thanks to Bargnani, Calderon, Parker and Peterson, this was a drastically different Raptors team than the one that showed up in name only at the Meadowlands.
This time, they were the ones who had the crisp ball movement, and the Nets were the ones standing around appreciating the atmosphere. This time, they were the team making their fans giddy with glee.
Of course, the Nets didn't exactly roll over and expire for the Raptors, either. Down by 20 at one point in the first half, New Jersey cut the lead to 95-94 with 27.6 seconds left in regulation time, silencing the ACC crowd that at one point had a nice combination "Let's go, Raptors!/VC sucks!" chant going.
But even with Calderon on the bench in the closing moments nursing a twisted right ankle, the Raps were not about to be denied.
Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images
Dirk Nowitzki on the challenge ahead: "We realize we have to take it from them. They're not going to give it to us. We hope to go down there and steal one so we can get Game 7 on our home court."
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
On his belief that Don Nelson can only succeed if he's coaching an underdog:
On how his falling out with Nelson hasn't affected his relationship with Nelson's son Donnie, who serves as the Mavericks' president of basketball operations:
Justin (Chicago): Marc, may as well enjoy your crow early this morning. The analysts gave far too much respect to Miami and disregarded the Bulls in that first series. Now that your dog has been eliminated, who in the East you are going to pick instead?
Marc Stein: Yup. In my playoff preview, I think I even mentioned that a couple scouts I spoke to advised me to pick the Bulls and I didn't listen. Perhaps I'm guilty of giving the Heat too much respect this season after showing them not enough last season.
Whether I did or I didn't, Chicago is now my East favorite. Sweeping Miami is still a major achievement no matter how banged up or overmatched the Heat were.
Joakim Noah slipped from No. 6 to No. 10 after a number of NBA decision-makers with potential lottery picks said they had him slipping on their draft boards after a so-so junior season and NCAA tournament. Workouts could help his stock some but I think the big question will be the Phoenix Suns. A number of sources say the Suns are very high on Noah. If the Hawks don't get a top-3 pick, their pick goes to Phoenix somewhere in the range between No. 4 and No. 6.