Nowitzki, Mavericks headed to NBA Finals for first time
By Paul Levine Jun 4, 2006, 11:37 GMT
Los Angeles - Considered a pioneer as an international star in the NBA, Germany's Dirk Nowitzki is about to explore a new frontier.
Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time following Saturday night's defence-driven 102-93 road victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Nowitzki had 24 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks for the fourth-seeded Mavericks, who vanquished the second-seeded Suns in six games in the Western Conference finals. They will face fellow Finals first-timers Miami beginning Thursday in Dallas.
In his eighth NBA season, Nowitzki has gone from international oddity to perimeter 7-footer to All-Star to franchise cornerstone. He is the first European player to truly lead a team to the NBA's biggest and brightest stage.
'I am proud of what we accomplished so far,' Nowitzki said. 'I have had a great eight years so far and so happy we are going to the Finals. When I first got here (in Dallas), it was rough. We were in the old arena and it stunk. We fought though a lot of stuff.
'The whole ride, the whole eight years has been fun. When I first got here, nobody knew us; you could go out anywhere. Then we got better and better.'
Nowitzki scored 16 points in the second half, when the Mavericks displayed the defence that has transformed them from a good team to a great team. They overcame a 15-point third-quarter deficit and held the high-powered Suns below 100 points for the third time in the series.
'Defensively, we were awesome in the second half,' Nowitzki said. 'That is the kind of defence we play under Avery (coach Avery Johnson). That is something that Avery puts a premium on.'
'I am as proud of our second-half defence as I have been all year, especially under the circumstance,' Johnson said.
The Mavericks had no choice, but to depend on defence. They could not make a shot in the early going and trailed, 44-26, in the second quarter. A steal and layup by Brazil's Leandro Barbosa gave the Suns a 60-45 lead midway through the third period.
Over the next 12 minutes, Dallas held Phoenix to 12 points, scratching and clawing to a 78-72 lead. After converting a pair of three-point plays and back-to-back jumpers in the third quarter, Nowitzki had two blocks in the final period to cap the surge.
'In the second half, I thought I had to drive more,' he said. 'I got two and-ones and that helps open up for the jump shot.'
The Mavericks missed 15 of their first 16 3-pointers before Jerry Stackhouse drained one to keep the lead at 83-77 with 5:02 to play. Josh Howard buried another to make it 93-83 with 1:30 remaining, touching off a celebration on the Dallas bench.
The Mavericks scored 40 points in the final period, when Stackhouse had 13 of his 19 and Howard added nine of his 20. They appeared to wear down the Suns, whose running game ended up running aground.
'You can't just tail off every second half the way we did and not expect it to mean something,' said two-time MVP Steve Nash, who had 19 points and nine assists.
Jason Terry scored all 17 of his points after halftime for Dallas, which claimed the clincher for all three of its playoff series on the road.
'At halftime the worst was behind us,' said Terry, who was limited by fouls to three minutes in the first half. 'We did a great job of getting back into it. We just came out in the second half and let it all hang out.'
France's Boris Diaw capped a strong postseason with 30 points and 11 rebounds for Phoenix, which was eliminated in the conference finals on its home floor for the second straight year.
'To see Dirk to be able to play for the championship - it's exciting,' said Nash, Nowitzki's teammate and good friend in Dallas for five years. 'It hurts a lot that I won't be able to do it, but I really admire what he's been able to do.'© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur