Sun, Dec 05, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Nowitzki, McGrady intensify the game

NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION The Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks provided fans with one of the finest examples this season of a game within a game

AP , DALLAS, TEXASAP, NEW YORK

Kobe Bryant of the Lakers passes as Jason Richardson of the Warriors defends during the first half in Los Angeles on Friday.

PHOTO: AP

Dirk Nowitzki grabbed a rebound, dribbled up the court and nailed a long jumper. Then he ran back, got another rebound and turned it into another swish.

Then it was Tracy McGrady's turn.

He hit two free throws, then stepped back and made a long shot. Next came a steal and a layup, followed by a long 3-pointer.

Had the perennial All-Stars just been playing a friendly game of one-on-one, this would've been good stuff.

But this exchange came in a real game between the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks on Thursday. And it happened in the first nine minutes, providing the first hint that both players were on their way to one of the best games-within-a-game the NBA has seen in years.

The Mavericks won 113-106 in overtime, with Nowitzki scoring 53 points, the most ever by a Dallas player and tops in the NBA this season. McGrady had 48, also beating the previous league best.

"This was by far one of the best I've ever been a part of, two of the league's superstars both putting their teams on their backs," Houston forward Juwan Howard said.

"I'm going to be telling my kids about this one," said Dallas forward Josh Howard.

Nowitzki had the most points by a foreign-reared player, but the big German was more than just an offensive marvel. He also had season highs in rebounds (16) and blocks (four), plus three steals and two assists. He was simply everywhere he had to be for 49 minutes, including the foul line, where he went 21-of-22, making more than Houston attempted.

"There are some nights when the basket had a lid on it, but tonight it looked big," Nowitzki said. "I made my first couple shots and got my confidence up and it stayed up from there. It was amazing."

While McGrady scored 62 and 50 last season, his stat line this time included nine assists and nine rebounds, narrowly missing the third triple-double of his career. He still called this game "No. 1 for me."

The last time one game featured two such huge outings was Dec. 6, 2000, when Los Angeles' Kobe Bryant and Golden State's Antawn Jamison each scored 51.

This one tops it, though, because Nowitzki and McGrady are both perennial All-Stars. That puts this game into the class of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1988, when Larry Bird scored 20 of his 34 in the fourth quarter to lift Boston past Atlanta despite 48 points by Dominique Wilkins, and the 1987 game when Wilkins scored 57 and Michael Jordan 41.

They knew it, too.

"We winked at each a couple of times," Nowitzki said.

When it was over, McGrady waited for Nowitzki at halfcourt. They slapped hands and hugged, with McGrady whispering congratulations and Nowitzki dropping his game face for a smile.

"That was fun," McGrady said. "It was the first time I've been a part of something like that."

It may not be the last. After all, this was just their first meeting since they became state and division rivals. The Rockets and Mavs meet three more times this season, starting next Saturday in Houston, and Dirk and T-Mac could keep going head-to-head for many years since both are signed to long-term contracts.

McGrady's breakout gives hope to Rockets fans who were concerned that coach Jeff Van Gundy was playing his tightest defense on his most talented player. The two-time scoring champion came in averaging 20.2 points per game, just 24th-best in the league. Only twice in 14 games had he passed 28 points, his average last season.

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