The Dallas Mavericks are low on bodies and almost at the end of their rope.
But they still have Dirk Nowitzki, who is battling an injury of his own, but still remains the source of any hope they have in upsetting Oklahoma City in this first-round playoff series.
The 37-year old Nowitzki had a vintage performance in Saturday’s 119-108 loss, scoring 27 points on 12-of-21 shooting.
Oklahoma City takes a 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Monday in Oklahoma City.
“We all got to enjoy it while we can,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “We are seeing one of the special athletes in sports history. He is as amazing athlete as I have been around.”
Nowitzki played nearly 40 minutes in the game for the short-handed Mavericks. Carlisle wanted to take him out and give him rest, but couldn’t.
“I had to leave him in,” Carlisle said. “It was our only chance to hang in.”
Actually, Carlisle tried to take him out early in the fourth quarter to give him a rest but Nowitzki refused to leave the game. When he finally did come out when the game was decided in the final minutes, he left to a standing ovation from the appreciative fans at the American Airlines Center.
“Just fighting to the end,” Nowitzki said. “I felt my wind was decent enough to battle through. All you are thinking is to make one more push.”
Nowitzki said the crowd approval was “nice but I will take a win.”
“I play to win,” Nowitzki said. “I compete to win. We left it all out there.”
What was amazing was that Nowitzki had to do much of his work down low. He missed the only 3-point shot he took. He had to grind his way out to 21 shots, getting little help from the officials as he only took three free throws.
“I have tremendous respect for Dirk,” Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. “He is competing hard He is doing everything he can help his team. He is playing with fire and passion. At 37, he is doing a lot for them. They are posting him. He is taking a lot of shots. He is playing great.”