Just imagine getting tossed around on one of those giant roller coasters at Six Flags Over Texas.
That’s how Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki describes Sunday’s Game 7 between the Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs, which tips off at 2:30 p.m. at the AT&T Center.
“It’s the ultimate thrill,” said Nowitzki, who is averaging 28 points and 14.8 rebounds in Game 7s in his career. “It’s win or go home.
“Everything that’s happened before is out the window. Nothing matters. It’s just that one game.”
It’s just “one game” those thrill-seeking Mavs would enjoy winning.
And if the No. 8-seeded Mavs knock off the top-seeded Spurs, they will open their Western Conference semifinal series on Tuesday in Portland against the Trail Blazers, who ended their first-round playoff series with Houston in six games on Friday night.
The Mavs and Spurs are tied at 3-3 in their best-of-seven series, thanks to a 113-111 triumph by Dallas on Friday night at American Airlines Center.
With the season on the line for both teams, this is a different set of dynamics than Friday, when only the Mavs were facing playoff elimination.
“It’s great competition, it’s the ultimate competition,” Nowitzki said. “You just got to love it. You’ve got to embrace it.”
With Nowitzki as their cornerstone, the Mavs are 4-1 all time in Game 7s, including 4-0 in the Nowitzki era.
The Mavs lost their first Game 7 to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1988 Western Conference Finals.
In 2003 the Mavs opened the first two rounds of the playoffs by staging a Game 7. After going up 3-0 on Portland in the first round of the playoffs, the series was extended to seven games before the Mavs won and advanced to the next round.
In the ’03 Western Conference semifinals, the Mavs beat the Sacramento Kings in seven games. And in 2005 it took seven games for the Mavs to eliminate the Houston Rockets in the opening round of the playoffs.
The last Game 7 the Mavs played was in San Antonio in the 2006 conference semifinals.
That’s the game where, with the Mavs down three points, Nowitzki drove to the basket and scored, was fouled by Manu Ginobili, then completed the three-point play to tie the game at 104-104 with just 22 seconds remaining.
The Mavs won in overtime 119-111 and advanced to the NBA Finals.
“We’re in a situation where we know what’s at stake,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve got a lot of veteran guys that have been in a lot of playoff games and a lot of big games.
“Our biggest thing is we’ve got to communicate well. We’ve got to really help each other out on the court at both ends of the floor. We’ve got to play at a break-neck level of intensity without losing our poise. They’ve got a great building, their fans are fantastic, but we’ve got to really just concentrate on us.”
It’s not like the Spurs are infallible in Game 7s. Including the loss to the Mavs in 2006, the Spurs are just 3-5 all time when playing in Game 7.
That includes losing Game 7 of last year’s NBA Finals to the Miami Heat after the Spurs gift-wrapped Game 6 to the Heat when San Antonio blew a five-point lead with 28 seconds remaining.
On his team hosting Game 7, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich appears to be a realist.
“Well, you wouldn’t give home-court advantage away, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything,” Popovich said. “We’ve won Game 7s and we’ve lost Game 7s.”
The Mavs just hope they can step back in time and again do to the Spurs what they did to them in 2006, beat them in a Game 7 in San Antonio.
“We are going into a tough environment against a great team,” Nowitzki said. “We have to keep playing hard and keep competing.
“There will be runs made — we have to weather the storm, just keep coming at them. That’s the only way it’s going to go down.”
Dirk Nowitzki has never lost a Game 7. The Mavericks are 4-0 in Game 7s in the Nowitzki era. A look at how Nowitzki played in those deciding games: