Nowtizki sets tone for Game 2 win


SAN ANTONIO -- Sometimes, for a superstar such as Dirk Nowitzki, it's not about the points you score. Or the rebounds you grab. Or the passes you make.

Sometimes, it's just about the will to win, which is as intense as it has ever been.

That's why 35-year-old Dirk, playing in his 130th playoff during his 15th NBA season dived for a loose ball during the third quarter Wednesday night at AT&T Center.

He corralled the ball near midcourt and fired a pass Monta Ellis for a driving layup against the Spurs.

It's that type of competitive spirit the Mavs displayed all night against San Antonio as they won their first playoff game since beating Miami for the title in June 2011.

It's why they kicked the Spurs' butt in Game 2 of this Western Conference quarterfinal.

Dallas 113, San Antonio 92.

"Sometimes, we get in trouble when we don't get those loose balls, those 50-50 balls," Dirk said. "Sometimes, if you want to win on the road you gotta give that little extra, play a little harder and compete like we did tonight. We deserved to win."

And when the extra effort comes from a dude, who's the face of the franchise and the 10th-leading scorer in NBA history it motivates everyone else. See, Dirk owns a championship ring and a NBA Finals MVP and every other individual accolade you would ever want, but his desire to win has never waned.

"Him diving on the floor, having been in the league 17 years and at his age that don't do nothing but motivate us as a team to do the same thing and hit the floor as well," Monta Ellis said of Dirk.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle will deny it, but it will be hard for the Mavs to play much better than they did Game 2.

Need evidence? Spurs fans started streaming out of the arena with six minutes left in the fourth quarter leaving plenty of happy MFFLs -- Mavs Fans For Life -- to celebrate the win when the game finally ended.

Hey, we now have a series.

You're surprised. Don't lie. Me too.

Sure the Spurs had beaten the Mavs 10 consecutive times, including five times this season. But there was nothing fluky about Dallas' victory in Game 2, just as there was nothing fluky about the way the Mavs grabbed a 10-point fourth quarter lead over the Spurs before collapsing in the final 7:45 and losing Game 1.

The Spurs remain the better team, but they must overcome a significant issue: The Mavs now believe they can win the series.

So much of professional sports involves confidence. When the season began, the Mavs just wanted to make the playoffs.

Once that was achieved, they battled as hard as they could in the final regular-season game against Memphis -- an overtime loss -- to avoid getting the Spurs in the first round because of their lack of success against them.

The first two games, though, have showed the Mavs that when they execute their defensive game plan and force the Spurs to take contested 2-point shots instead of open 3-point shots, they can beat them.

Game 1 gave them confidence. Game 2 reinforced it.

The Mavs, the best offensive team in the league, won 49 games in basketball's toughest conference because they can attack in so many different ways.

They can shoot the 3. They can play pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop with Ellis and Dirk. They can isolate Dirk. They share the ball.

And they have a superstar and a championship coach, a combination most teams would rather avoid.

The contributions in Game 2 came from virtually every player on the roster, yet no one had an unbelievable game. Heck, Dirk needed 19 shots to score 16 points.

Guards Jose Calderon, Devin Harris and Ellis combined to make 20-of-39 shots for 51 points with 13 assists and only four turnovers.

Shawn Marion scored 20 points and played phenomenal defense, while centers Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair combined for 12 points and 14 rebounds.

Still, there's no time to bask in the victory.

"It's a monumental task, but we're in this thing to win," Carlisle said, "We're not just in it to get a split and feel happy. We can't let up."

There's no chance of that happening as long as Dirk is diving for loose balls.