The Chicago Bulls were well on their way to getting a quality road win over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, leading by 12 points with less than four minutes remaining. Even in the final seconds, it seemed like Chicago would came away victorious, an impressive effort with Joakim Noah sidelined by injuries.
And yet, Dirk Nowitzki was on the court. When it came down to it, that was ultimately the difference between winning and losing.
With an incredible scoring flurry in the final minute by their franchise player, punctuated by the game-winning shot with two seconds left, the Mavericks beat the Bulls on Saturday, 100-98.
(Hat tip to Mavs Moneyball, SB Nation's Mavericks blog, for the video)
As solid as Chicago played at times during the game, it was obvious from the beginning that defending the post without Noah was going to be an issue. Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler did their usual work on the perimeter, holding Vince Carter and O.J. Mayo to a combined 21 points on 7-of-27 shooting, but the Mavs' post players had a field day.
Nowitzki was especially lethal for Dallas, hitting 14 of his 17 shot attempts en route to a season-high 35 points. For the aging star, it was a vintage Dirk performance.
The Mavericks' other big men played well against the likes of Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Nazr Mohammed. Brandan Wright had a huge night with 17 points and 13 rebounds in just 23 minutes of action, while Shawn Marion added 10 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
For a Chicago team that's typically struggled on offense this year, that wasn't the issue Saturday. Boozer, Deng and Nate Robinson each scored 25 points to lead the team, which used a seven-player rotation for practically the entire game. Boozer had a double-double, adding 11 rebounds to his box score, while Robinson was a perfect 7-of-7 from three-point range.
And yet, those impressive efforts on the offensive end ignore what happened in the final minutes of the game.
Leading 97-85 with about four minutes remaining following a Deng three-pointer, the Bulls wouldn't hit another field goal for the remainder of the game. The team's numbers in the final minutes are staggering: seven missed field goals, three missed free throws and two turnovers.
Had the Bulls even made their free throws in the final minute, this game would have at least gone to overtime. Instead, Dallas capitalized on consecutive misses at the charity stripe by Butler to get a badly needed victory for their playoff aspirations.
The headline over at Blog a Bull, SB Nation's Bulls blog, currently reads, "Dirk, Dallas steal a win from the Bulls."
Maybe, but Dirk is one helluva thief in that case.