Even on an off-night by his lofty standards, Dirk Nowitzki still showed why he owns Madison Square Garden.
Struggling all night Monday, Nowitzki sank a 19-footer at the buzzer to lead the Dallas Mavericks to a 110-108 victory over the New York Knicks.
The victory enabled the Mavs (35-23) to complete a 3-0 sweep of this road trip, which also includes victories over Philadelphia and Detroit. The Mavs’ only other 3-0 sweep on the road this season occurred Dec. 28-Jan. 1 when they beat Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit.
Nowitzki’s jumper — his 13th career game-winning shot in the regular season — came after the Mavs forced the Knicks into a 24-second shot clock violation with 10.6 seconds left. The Mavs called timeout, then got the ball to Nowitzki near the top of the key.
And despite being heavily guarded by Carmelo Anthony, Nowitzki hoisted up a shot that clanked off the rim, bounced high in the air and then dropped through the basket as time expired.
Nowitzki, who had averaged 27.2 points for his career in his previous 13 games in this arena, seemed almost apologetic that his last shot settled the game.
“I had no idea where it was going,” said Nowitzki when asked if he knew his game-winner was going in when it left his hands. “That’s probably the ugliest game-winner I’ve ever shot.
“Once it went up I figured it had a chance, but I wasn’t quite sure it was going. Then when it actually went in I didn’t even feel like celebrating it was so ugly, and I kind of turned around and saw the bench running at me I was kind of like I was a little disappointed, but we’ll take the win and move on.”
Nowitzki’s clutch shooting came on a night when the Mavs received a season-high 23 points from Vince Carter, 22 points and six assists from Monta Ellis, 20 points and six assists by Jose Calderon and 12 points from Brandan Wright.
Two costly turnovers from Ellis down the stretch helped the Knicks wipe out a 108-100 deficit with 1:37 left.
Anthony, who scored 44 points, made a 3-pointer to tie the game at 108-all with 50.3 seconds left. Then the Mavericks’ defense set up Nowitzki’s game-winner.
“It’s the great Nowitzki, man,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s done it so many times, and really it was an incredible shot.
“He hit as difficult a shot as you’re going to hit — Carmelo was all over him. Just to get the ball up in the air was a feat, and the shot going in was great.”
Dallas forced the Knicks into nine turnovers in the first quarter in building a 31-21 lead that eventually swelled to 38-24 early in the second quarter. But Anthony got red-hot and helped the Knicks trim the Mavs’ lead to 60-59 at intermission, thanks to a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Ellis.
A dunk by Wright, a 3-pointer by Calderon and another bucket by Wright padded the Mavs’ cushion to 108-100.
But the Knicks came roaring back until Nowitzki stepped up and scored his only two points of the fourth quarter. He finished with 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting.
“He is who he is,” Carter, who made 7 of 12 from 3-point range, said of Nowitzki. “He’s done so much for this franchise, and regardless of how things were going throughout the course of the game we have confidence that he’s a great player, and a great player when you get that opportunity you live for it.”
It was indeed a memorable and another shining moment for Nowitzki.
“By the time I looked up I jabbed a couple of times and the time clock was running down, so I didn’t even know if I had time to put it down once or twice,” Nowitzki said. “I just hoisted one over Anthony.
“It basically hit the basket, the board, and part of the rim and Jerry West over there came back over. It was definitely an ugly, ugly shot, but I’m glad it went in.”