Dirk Nowitzki has rediscovered his clutch game.
The NBA’s seventh-leading scorer all-time hadn’t really lost that defining gene, but missing 22 games with an Achilles strain hadn’t given him many chances to display it.
But Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers, Nowitzki made a pair of 3-pointers in the final 39 seconds, each giving the Mavericks a one-point lead. The second put the Mavericks up 113-112 with 3.9 seconds left and had the look of a game-winner.
However, Portland’s C.J. McCollum floated in a 16-foot runner with just 0.3 seconds remaining to seal the victory, thwarting the opportunity to celebrate Nowitzki’s clutch shots.
Nevertheless, Nowitzki was back at it Thursday against the Utah Jazz as he made a high-arching 20-footer with 3.3 seconds remaining to tie the game at 100-100 and send it into overtime. That bucket climaxed a rally from 21 points down in the third quarter as the Mavs beat the Jazz, 112-105.
The ball bounced off the front half of the rim and I was hoping there would be a long rebound, and it just bounced right to me. All I had to do was go up and hopefully score. That was probably one of the easier ones I’ve had in my career.
Nowitzki set up his critical shot when he chased down a missed jumper by Harrison Barnes with 6.6 seconds to go. His basket sent the American Airlines Center crowd into a frenzy.
“The ball bounced off the front half of the rim and I was hoping there would be a long rebound, and it just bounced right to me. All I had to do was go up and hopefully score,” Nowitzki explained. “That was probably one of the easier ones I’ve had in my career.
Nowitzki had redemption on his mind after missing a free throw with 21.4 seconds left.
“I was a little mad,” he said. “But I’m glad the shot went in and we were able to play really well in overtime.”
Nowitzki scored 25 points in 30 minutes against Portland, a day after playing 24 minutes in Denver. He followed that with 20 points in 37 minutes against the Jazz.
Those were just the third and fourth 20-point games of the season for Nowitzki, who said he has regained his leg strength.
The Mavericks (21-32) host the Orlando Magic (20-35) Saturday night at 8 at American Airlines Center.
“He certainly has been moving better and better as the season has gone on,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “That was a back-to-back situation, so (Tuesday) was a very important night in terms of him establishing the ability to play back-to-backs.
“He didn’t play that many minutes in Denver the night before, which helped, but he’s feeling better and doing better all the time. We’ve got to keep the momentum going here through the (All-Star) break, and then he’ll get some time and we’ll make a push coming out of the break.”
Barnes, who had assumed the Mavs’ go-to role as Nowitzki worked back from injury, marveled at the 19-year veteran against the Jazz with the game on the line.
“Dirk was obviously being himself down the stretch,” Barnes said. “Clutch.”
Knocking down clutch baskets has been a part of Nowitzki’s game for nearly two decades.
“He’s done that so many times,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “You try to keep it out of his hands. You try to deny Dirk, because when he gets it, he’s hard to guard, for sure.”
Magic at Mavericks
8 p.m. Saturday, FSSW
Feeling 20 again
Though he’s averaged 21.8 points a game for his career, Dirk Nowitzki has just four 20-point games in his 27 games this season, including the Mavs’ last two games. Nowitzki’s 20-point efforts this season: