OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki was a dud, not an MVP, as the Dallas Mavericks got bounced out of the NBA playoffs.
The league’s probable Most Valuable Player came up small when his team needed a big effort and will have to watch the rest of the playoffs on television following Dallas’ 111-86 loss to the Golden State Warriors Thursday night.
“The expectations of myself are very high and if I don’t meet those expectations, I’m going to be disappointed,” Nowitzki said. “This series, I couldn’t put my stamp on it the way I wanted to. That’s why I’m very disappointed.”
The 67 regular-season wins and spectacular stats that made Nowitzki the favorite to win the award will be mere footnotes on his season. The lasting memory for most fans will be the missed shot after missed shot he put up in Game 6 when the Mavericks, the overall No. 1 seed, were eliminated in the first round.
Nowitzki finished 2-for-13 from the field with eight points, unable to prevent the NBA’s biggest playoff upset ever. Nowitzki didn’t make his first shot until the final minute of the first half. By the time he made his second, Dallas was already down 23 points.
“I thought I had some great looks, especially there in the first half,” Nowitzki said. “I couldn’t find my rhythm today. That was very frustrating. I couldn’t help my team in a deciding game. That’s tough.”
The loss will only bring up more questions about Nowitzki’s ability to carry his team to a title. Miami’s Dwyane Wade questioned Nowitzki’s leadership earlier this year, but owner Mark Cuban stands by his star.
“Not at all,” Cuban said when asked if he had questions about Nowitzki as a leader. “Not a little bit. Anyone who suggests otherwise is a moron.”
That memorable comeback Nowitzki engineered at home at the end of Game 5 was all for naught. The Mavericks were the best team to ever lose a first-round series. No team that had won 65 games in a season had ever lost its opening round.
Nowitzki had 12 points to spark Dallas’ closing 15-0 run in the 118-112 Game 5 win, a victory that gave the Mavericks life for two more days. But he couldn’t follow it up with another clutch performance and ended the series averaging 19.7 points while shooting 38 percent against his former coach Don Nelson’s team.
Nelson knew just the right buttons to push against Nowitzki, sending double teams his way at every dribble and frustrating him at every turn with smaller defenders like Stephen Jackson.
“Just make him work hard, that was the thing, make him earn his points,” Golden State’s Jason Richardson said. “Stephen Jackson did an incredible job of making it hard for him, and our fans got in his head a little bit, too, I think and it threw him out of his game.”
Nowitzki sat on the bench expressionless as the Warriors celebrated in the final minutes of the blowout.
This series was a far cry from Nowitzki’s postseason success last year, when he led Dallas past San Antonio in the second round and scored 50 points in a key Game 5 win over Phoenix in the conference finals. The Mavericks wound up losing in the finals to the Heat, but came back so focused this season that they won 67 games, sixth-most in league history, and 25 more than the Warriors, who needed a 9-1 finish just to make the playoffs.
“It’s a disappointment. You can’t even describe it,” Nowitzki said. “You play your heart out for six, seven months, you win 67 games, and it really means nothing at this point. … This is tough to swallow.”
The Mavericks became the third No. 1 seed to lose in the first round since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams and the first since the opening round became a best-of-seven in 2003.