OKLAHOMA CITY — Dirk Nowitzki left a screen, received a waist-high pass, and buried a 20-foot jumper to break open the scoring during Dallas' 106-103 win over Oklahoma City.
It was vintage Dirk — the frequent Thunder foe who was near unstoppable during the Mavericks 2011 NBA Championship run, which included a 4-1 Western Conference Finals defeat of Oklahoma City. During that series, the Thunder didn’t have any answers for the 7-footer; in turn, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant and Nick Collison attempted to defend him.
“We won against an unbelievably talented team with three later MVPs,” Nowitzki said about the 2011 playoff series victory. “It’s an amazing atmosphere in this building. This crowd is amazing, they live for the Thunder here, and it’s tough to pull out a win.”
Nowitzki finished with 7 points and 13 rebounds in 26 minutes. After a delayed start to his season due to injury, Nowitzki has slowly averaged more points and minutes per game. He has yet to officially announce this year will be his last, but 2018-19 has certainly felt like a curtain call. He entered Sunday’s game to a rousing applause from Oklahoma City fans rarely reserved for opposing players.
The 2007 MVP will conclude his 21st season for the Mavericks as the sixth leading scorer in NBA history after he passed Wilt Chamberlain earlier this year. Thunder players and coaches had nothing but respect for Nowitzki. Paul George called Dirk a “legend” and German-born Dennis Schroder said the 14-time All-Star inspired him.
“He changed the game for Germany and internationally,” he said. “The best four-man to have ever played. People growing up in Germany, watching him do what he did, it was big.”
• Looking for a spark: Guard Terrance Ferguson started the game for the Thunder and played almost 20 minutes, but he only recorded 3 points and turned in a -22 plus/minus. Down the stretch, Billy Donovan replaced him with the rarely used Raymond Felton.
“I just think we were trying to find some different combinations of players,” Donovan said. “Try to do something a bit different. Maybe Ray could come off the bench and give us maybe a spark on both ends of the floor.”
Felton, who finished with 2 points, primarily defend Trey Burke, who led the Mavericks with 25 points.
• Slow start: Other than the end of the first half and end of the game, the Thunder played an almost unwatchable brand of basketball. Their first handful of shots were perhaps the worst: Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Steven Adams missed layups or tip-ins, and Jerami Grant couldn’t find the net with a wide open three-pointer.
It was a microcosm of the team’s post All-Star break offensive struggles.
“The ball doesn’t go in the basket sometimes. Even coming down the stretch, I thought our guys got some good looks to close the game out,” Donovan said. “This is why I’ve always said we need to be a defensive team first.”