It is hard to imagine being under-appreciated when you have been a 10-time All-Star, an NBA Most Valuable Player and the best European ever in the world’s greatest basketball league, but Dirk Nowitzki might just be.
A monumental performance by the jump-shooting German giant in Tuesday’s opener of the Western Conference Finals underlined how unstoppable the 2.13m player can be.
All that is lacking from Nowitzki’s prodigious resume is an NBA title and a championship could well be in his future after he helped the Dallas Mavericks to 121-112 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, pouring in a game-high 48 points.
Nowitzki, once derided as a “soft” player for plying his trade away from the basket despite his size, missed only three of 15 shots and converted a playoff record 24-of-24 free throws as the desperate Thunder pushed, pulled and pounded him.
When a big player guarded him, Nowitzki dribbled by him.
Smaller players tried to deflect passes coming in to him, poking their arms through his and often drawing fouls.
When defenders played him perfectly, Nowitzki faded back and launched an exquisitely aimed -off-balance shot.
“He’s been doing it for many years against a lot of great players,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s one of the best players I’ve seen at that position offensively. He scores on just a variety of shots.”
“And a lot of shots, you don’t think he has a chance of making it, but he does,” Brooks said.
Thunder forward Kevin Durant, the NBA scoring leader the past two seasons, posted 40 points in a losing effort and took a few turns at guarding Nowitzki himself. After two quick fouls, he left the job to others.
“He’s a seven-foot jump shooter,” Durant said. “He shoots one-legged fadeaways.”
Nowitzki, the ninth player chosen in the 1998 Draft, has gone to the playoffs 11 years in a row with Dallas, but only once reached the final.
In 2006, the Mavericks won the first two games of the championship series at home against the Miami Heat, but lost the next four as Dwyane Wade took charge.
“We feel like every year, every new season in the playoffs is a new opportunity for us,” Nowitzki told reporters. “After ’06 ... every year is a new opportunity for us and we’re just trying to go for it.”