'The Great Nowitzki' saves Mavs' bacon

NEW YORK -- Dirk Nowitzki had just silenced Madison Square Garden and sent his teammates into a frenzy as they mobbed him at mid-court.

Nowitzki had just hit a game-winning buzzer-beater, his third in the past 12 seasons, allowing his Dallas Mavericks to escape with a 110-108 victory Monday night over the New York Knicks.

And yet he felt so undeserving of the adulation.

He felt like he had done everything wrong -- only for it to end so right.

Nowitzki’s 19-foot fadeaway over Carmelo Anthony at the top of the key with no time left had epitomized his night: It wasn’t a great shot. It didn’t feel good coming out of his hand. It ricocheted off the backboard. It hit every piece of the rim it could possibly hit. It should’ve been a miss.

And yet, it ended up going straight up in the air -- and, eventually, straight down through the net.

“That was probably the ugliest game-winner I ever shot,” said Nowitzki, who finished with just 15 points -- his only two in the fourth quarter the final two of the game -- on 6-of-13 shooting. “I had no idea where [my shot was going].

“Once it went up, I figure it had a chance, but I wasn’t quite sure it was going [in]. And then it actually went in, and I didn’t even feel like celebrating it was so ugly. I kind of turned around and saw the bench running at me and it was a little disappointing.

“But like I said, we’ll take the win and move on.”

The Mavericks had just blown a 108-100 lead with 1 minute, 37 seconds left before Nowitzki bailed them out.

The play was a high-post iso, the same play the Mavericks have run for the 35-year-old Nowitzki for 16 seasons now.

Anthony defended Nowitzki so tenaciously, so perfectly. It didn’t matter.

Nowitzki received the ball from Jose Calderon and immediately faced up Anthony.

Nothing. No space. He tried a couple jabs. Nothing.

Nowitzki waited. And waited. And waited some more, biding his time.

Too much time.

He took one dribble with his left hand, Anthony draped all over him, squared his shoulders and let it go.

“After the first bounce, I said we’re going to overtime,” said Anthony, who finished with 44 points.

“It’s like a needle in the balloon there. It sucks all the air out of you. There’s really nothing that I can say at that moment. He hit a hell of a shot.”

Nowitzki backpedaled, stopped and raised his fist. All Anthony could do was stare at the ceiling.

“It’s 'the Great Nowitzki,’ man,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s done it so many times, and it was an incredible shot. It was only fitting it was the two best players out there, man-on-man, and he hit as difficult a shot as you’re gonna hit. Carmelo was all over him.”

Joked Calderon, “Great shot. Great execution. We’ve been working on that.”

Nowitzki missed all five of his 3-point attempts. He was frustrated all night long.

But when called upon to deliver in the biggest spot on the biggest stage, he did, just as he has so many times throughout his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

“That’s one thing about the greatest players,” Carlisle said. “I played with Larry Bird for three years, and he took more pleasure in hitting a game-winning shot after he’d just missed eight or nine [shots] than having a great game at a time. And that’s why the great ones stick to the process. They keep approaching the game the same way. They keep believing in themselves. That was a phenomenal shot.”

The Mavericks (35-23), who look like they’re going to be in a fight for their playoff lives, had to have this one. And because of Nowitzki, they got it, sweeping their three-game road trip and improving to 9-2 in their past 11 games. They currently sit in seventh place in the Western Conference.

Vince Carter had a season-high 23 points and went 7-for-12 from 3-point range, Monta Ellis added 22 and Calderon chipped in 20 of his own.

Before Monday night’s game, asked about Nowitzki’s dominance at MSG, Carlisle quipped, “I want you to name a building Dirk hasn’t been great in.”

Later, before Nowitzki sent him sprinting onto the court in jubilation, owner Mark Cuban said his superstar could play “five, six, seven” more years in the NBA.

Sounds crazy.

Then again, why ever doubt “the Great Nowitzki?”

“I love this building,” Nowitzki said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t play a little better than I usually do.”

It’s OK, Dirk. Don’t be so disappointed. We’ll gladly settle for the Big Apple Buzzer-Beater -- as ugly as it might have been.