In the midst of conference tournament time in college basketball, here I was Thursday night watching Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki go at it for the 48th time in their regular season careers. And I loved damn near every second. Dirk will retire as the best European player of all time, the only European to win NBA MVP, the best seven foot shooter of all time and a first ballot Hall of Famer who dealt with years of abuse labeling him soft and lacking the balls to lead his team to a championship.
This was, of course, true until he launched into one of the most memorable playoff runs in my lifetime culminating by ripping the heart out my chest, pissing on it and likely doing several lines of coke off strippers’ asses in Miami with Mark Cuban in the summer of 2011. And not to dig up demons, he’s Dwyane Wade and a certain group of officials away from two championships, thus surpassing David Hasselhoff and Marlon Brando, Sr. as America’s favorite German (or guy with German descent).
Duncan – not to repeat what’s already been waxed about Timmy – is a legit top 10 player to walk through the NBA with the credentials to back him.
Duncan vs. Nowitzki has been a NBA rivalry not really based on fanfare. Yet, they’ve been thorns in the other’s side for years with Timmy taking 27 of their 48 matchups. Not exactly the most lopsided, wouldn’t you say? Now check the postseason numbers.
Duncan (14-12): 26.0 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.8 BPG, 53.9& FG, 65.2% FT
Nowitzki (12-14): 24.5 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 49.8% FG, 92.3% FT
Duncan’s career is the more lauded for exceptional reasons. He played on historically better teams, with the second greatest coach of the modern era and with running mates Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli who boast exceptional chances to be inducted into the Hall. He’s a 14-time All-Star, two-time league MVP, three time Finals MVP and four rings in total. And somehow, Timmy’s been arguably the best big man in basketball this year, which just happens to be his 16th season. So, yes, Duncan’s the better player and it’s not much of an argument there.
Still, Duncan vs. Dirk for the most part is always a treat. There’s Game 1 of the 2003 Western Conference Finals where Duncan’s 40 points and 15 rebounds was overshadowed as Dirk launched into a 38-15 game of his own all but saying Dallas wasn’t going to lose. And they didn’t, but they did lose the series. Then there’s one of my all-time favorite playoff games (yes, it featured the Spurs!) and definitely all-time favorite Dirk moment. In Game 7 of the 2006 semifinals, Dallas is one blink away from losing the series after being up 3-1 and a 20-point lead when Dirk turns into a human Volkswagen and wills the Mavs to victory with one play.
The shit was amazing then, and it’s still amazing now. On the biggest stage possible at the time – Game 7 on the road versus the defending champs – Dirk pulled off a moment for the ages going for 37 points and 15 rebounds on 11-20 FG and 15-16 from the line.
Perhaps their history and the penchant for producing big games whenever they’re on the floor together reeled me in last night. Again, maybe it was knowing there won’t be another decade of this; two years may even be pushing the envelope. San Antonio is still the better team. Dirk’s still holding on to whatever dim playoff hope the Mavs have left. And yet, Thursday night, they provided me another game for the memory bank.
Timmy’s 28 points 19 rebounds was a vintage performance; the oldest player since Moses Malone in 1992 to post those numbers. Down seven with less than two and a half minutes left, here was Dirk, coming to Dallas’ rescue as he has so many times in the past nailing big shots down the stretch closing the gap to 92-91. Despite nailing the bucket to bring Dallas within one, Vince Carter was given last shot responsibilities while Dirk looked from the elbow never touching the ball. A depressing end when taking into consideration Nowitzki’s earned that honor to take his team’s last shot more than 98% of players in this league, including Vince.*
It’s all water under the bridge by now. I’m a fan of the game more than the Spurs or Mavericks, so I’ll opt to appreciate the moment as opposed to the outcome. It’s the moments I’ll miss when Father Time decides enough is enough. Appreciate Tim Duncan for being the most fundamentally sound big man, possibly ever. Appreciate Dirk for defying the laws of physics with his height and talent, and for giving us the greatest post game lean with the microphone in recorded history.
Hall of Fame players don’t come around too often. Truly transcendent and game-changing Hall of Fame players are even more rare. Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan happen to fall in the latter.
* – To shed light on how competitive this has been, Thursday’s Spurs’ victory marked the first time in 15 years San Antonio has swept Dallas in the season series.