Dirk Nowitzki missed from several of his usual spots as Dallas blew a lead in the fourth quarter of its playoff-opening loss to San Antonio.
The Mavericks star even flubbed a glorified layup, the most surprising of all the misses when Dallas went without a meaningful basket for the final 8 minutes of the 90-85 loss to the Spurs.
Now Nowitzki has to bounce back from one of the worst playoff games of his 16-year career when the Mavericks play at San Antonio in Game 2 on Wednesday night.
It’s hard to imagine Dallas knocking off the team with the NBA’s best record as long as Nowitzki has 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. It was his lowest point total in the playoffs in seven years.
The Mavericks aren’t imagining it.
”Dirk is our least concern,” said backup guard Devin Harris, who led Dallas with 19 points in the opener. ”He is going to get his shots and we know he’s going to make them.”
The Spurs tend to make it harder on the pure-shooting 7-footer, crowding him at the 3-point line and bumping him when he gets closer to the basket.
When Nowitzki had plans to take over in the fourth quarter with post-up moves, the Spurs blindsided him with a second defender and forced a turnover. That sequence came during a 14-0 San Antonio run that wiped out an 81-71 Dallas lead.
”We basically stayed with him a lot of times and we didn’t help,” said Spurs center Tiago Splitter, who shares most of the defensive load on Nowitzki with Boris Diaw. ”That makes the other guys have to work a little bit more. So it wasn’t just me and Boris.”
This is how it’s always been the six times the Mavericks and Spurs have met in the playoffs since Nowitzki came to Dallas. The Spurs find a way to take Nowitzki out of the game. The Mavericks look for a way to make him a factor again, knowing it won’t be easy.
”I don’t think they’re going to leave me much on pick-and-roll coverage all series,” Nowitzki said. ”I can’t just sit out there and measure the wind and shoot.”
The last time Nowitzki scored 11 points in a playoff game, he came back with 50 against Phoenix in 2006, when the Mavericks topped the Suns in the Western Conference finals before Miami beat them for the title.
That’s unlikely to happen again because the 35-year-old Nowitzki no longer carries that kind of offensive load. Instead, he shares it with a variety of options led by guard Monta Ellis.
He rarely shoots 26 times a game as he did back then – and coming off a bad game isn’t going to tempt him.
”You don’t want to overthink it,” said Nowitzki, who has had several clunkers during Dallas’ current 10-game losing streak to the Spurs. ”You don’t want to go completely crazy and just hoist everything you see because some of those shots are contested. They’ve got to be within the flow and within the rhythm of the game.”
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is sure those shots will be.
”The thing about all-time great players is that it’s not about one day coming in and saying, `Hey, I’m going to go harder today’ or `I’m going to be more aggressive today,”’ Carlisle said. ”He’s had the same approach every day for 16 years.”
And the Spurs have had the same game plan.
”Even some days we do a good defense and he’s going to still make shots,” Splitter said. ”If he has that kind of day it’s hard. All you’ve got to do is pray that the ball doesn’t go in.”
The Mavericks are hoping it does. Otherwise it figures to be a short series.
Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler