Dirk Nowitzki did everything to get away from Indiana’s defenders Friday night.
When the weary eight-time All-Star finally made his move, he delivered.
Nowitzki caught a pass, dribbled once to his left, then stepped away from Jeff Foster to make a 20-foot jumper with 1.1 seconds left, giving Dallas a 94-92 victory over the Pacers.
“I tried to let the clock run down as far as I could, made a little move and was able to get some separation to get a shot up,” he said. “I didn’t think I had a lot of legs after playing 45 minutes yesterday (Thursday) against Atlanta.”
Yes, Nowitzki finished with 23 points and seven rebounds, but he got into foul trouble and was just 3-of-11 from the field in the second half after scoring 17 points in the first 24 minutes.
Worse yet, Nowitzki continually found himself surrounded by the Pacers defense and had balls stripped out of his hands. So Dallas needed other options, and Nowitzki’s teammates came through.
Jason Terry, making his first start since Jan. 11, scored 17 points despite having his injured left hand wrapped up. Jason Kidd scored all 10 of his points in the second half. And center Ryan Hollins, starting in place of the injured Erick Dampier, preserved the win by partially blocking Danny Granger’s 20-footer at the buzzer—a shot that would have forced overtime.
The victory was important for another reason: Dallas’ playoff hopes.
The Mavs ended a stretch in which they lost three of four and have now matched Utah’s win total (42), though Dallas remains two games back in the loss column for the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference. They still hold No. 8, four games ahead of ninth-place Phoenix.
For Indiana, which has lost five straight, it was another damaging blow to its fading playoff chances. The Pacers are now 4 1/2 games behind eighth-place Chicago in the Eastern Conference chase with 12 games left.
Granger led Indiana with 18 points and 11 rebounds in his second start since coming back from a foot injury. Troy Murphy, who missed Wednesday night’s game with a bruised left calf, had 14 points and 11 rebounds. And Indiana dropped to 7-12 in games decided by three points or fewer.
“They’re all tough when you lose with a shot like that at the end,” Murphy said. “I feel like we’ve had a lot of games like that this year. For some reason or another, we can’t seem to pull these ones out.”
Nowitzki didn’t look tired at the start.
He dominated the first half, helping the Mavs build a 10-point lead midway through the second quarter. They still lead 51-46 at halftime, and then rebuilt a 66-56 lead midway through the third quarter when Nowitzki was struggling.
That’s when Indiana’s long-range shooters changed the game.
Brandon Rush and Travis Diener each hit 3s in a 12-4 spurt that made it 72-70. They tied it on another Diener 3-pointer with 2:07 to go and finally took a 76-74 lead when Granger drove in for a layup with 1 minute left in the third.
But Terry hit a 3 with 12.9 seconds left, starting a stretch in which the teams traded leads on six straight baskets.
The only time either team led by more than three points the rest of the night was when Rush hit a 3 to give the Pacers an 89-85 lead with 2:30 to go.
“They go up four, and things didn’t look great for us,” Nowitzki said.
Terry answered the challenge by knocking down a 20-footer and Nowitzki followed with a 17-foot turnaround jumper to tie it with 1:25 to go. Terry finished the seven-point flurry with a 3-pointer that gave Dallas a 92-89 lead with 56.9 seconds left.
Indiana answered with T.J. Ford’s 3 with 20 seconds left, a shot that barely beat the shot-clock buzzer.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, making his return to Indiana where he was the head coach for three seasons, then called timeout, setting up the obvious.
“He made an all-star shot,” Foster said. “He’s been doing that for years, and unfortunately, did it to us tonight.”