The L.A. Lakers have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and a better bench, but the Dallas Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki. Monday night, that was enough to give Dallas the win. It's not to say that Nowitzki can win the series for Dallas, but it's a good reminder of just how dangerous Dirk can be.
And it's also a perfect counterpoint to reasoning like this, from the OC Register:
The Lakers gave Game 1 away ... They are still the better team in this series, still have the best player.
The Lakers still have the best team, sure. But are we totally sure they've got the best player? If Player A averaged 25 ppg and 5 rpg on 45% shooting, and Player B averaged 23 ppg and 7 rpg on 51% shooting, isn't the choice a lot harder? Player A is Kobe, Player B is Dirk.
But Kobe had better teammates so he didn't have to carry his team statistically, you say. Well, Dirk had terrible teammates and did have to carry his team. And he has, all year long. Monday night's performance was no fluke. It's just what Dirk does:
None of this is a knock on Kobe. It's just a reminder that, toe-to-toe with the greatest scorer of this generation, Dirk measures out just about even. So it shouldn't really be a surprise that if the Lakers can't get scoring from Pau Gasol and the rest of Kobe's subordinates, Dirk will come out on top about the half the time.
Monday night, he scored 11 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, and was the biggest reason a seven-point deficit at the beginning of the fourth turned into a two-point win by the end. The other reason was Phil Jackson's decision to guard Dirk with Pau Gasol and not Lamar Odom, the only Laker with a chance at giving him problems. But that's beside the point.
For now, Dirk deserves some love. He's never quite gotten his due as a superstar, but he's never stopped dominating and he's never complained, even as his team's been overmatched the past few years. And let there be no mistake: He's as deadly as any scorer on the planet, with Monday becoming the latest example of a vintage performance that everyone will overlook while they focus on the Lakers.
As for the next two weeks? Even if the Lakers still look like favorites to win the war, as long as Dirk's hitting on all cylinders for Dallas, it should be one hell of a battle.