A Career Milestone, a Career Night

If J.J. Barea has been paying any attention to the comments of Mavericks fans this season, last night probably felt especially good to him. In the more likely event that he isn’t a regular on any MFFL-themed blog and chooses to spend his time in arguably more productive ways, it probably still felt pretty good. After struggling from the field more than anyone on the Dallas roster this season, he started in place of the injured Deron Williams last night and inexplicably went off, pouring in a career-high 32 points to go along with 11 assists. Oh, and minor footnote: Dirk Nowitzki surpassed Shaquille O’Neal to become the sixth-highest scorer in NBA history.

I’ve got more to say about Dirk’s big night later, but everyone knew that was coming at some point early this season. Prior to last night, I would have placed a bigger bet on Dirk beating sizable odds and passing Wilt Chamberlain for fifth place on the scoring list before retiring than on Barea running off 32 points in a single night. In fact, I’d have placed a bigger bet on Dirk actually being Wilt Chamberlain than on Barea scoring 32 points in one game. I’m talking a full-on supernatural twist that Wilt the Stilt’s spirit has actually been possessing Dirk ever since his death in 1999 and enjoying playing that outside game he always wanted to when he was alive — I’d have guessed that was more likely than J.J. putting up this kind of offensive performance.

Good for Barea, though. We can’t entirely rule out that he, himself, wasn’t the victim of some kind of possession last night, but whatever the reasons behind it, he had one of the biggest offensive explosions of any Maverick this season. Considering his team needed a nice comeback and an overtime period to squeak by the feeble Nets 119-118, I’d say it couldn’t have come at a better time, so good job, ghost of Bob Cousy. Never mind, he’s still alive. All of the all-time point guard greats are still alive. You win this round, J.J.

Back to Dirk, who deserves a serious write-up after such a huge accomplishment. Until this season, I had only seen the German Big Dipper a handful of times. I knew he possessed an unprecedented shooting ability for a man of such great length, and I knew he was to be respected. It wasn’t until becoming a full-blown Mavericks fan this season, however, that I’ve truly been able to appreciate his greatness, even if he is slowing down at the age of 37 now.

When he set up on the left corner for what would prove to be the defining basket in the second quarter, I knew it was going to go in before he shot it. There’s something about Nowitzki that almost always makes it easy to know the future of the shot he’s about to take, whether it’ll ripple through the net or improbably bounce off the rim. He’s a streaky shooter for sure, and his mannerisms often tell you everything you need to know about the likelihood of the shot going in. There have been a few times this year where Dirk has continued taking shots even when they aren’t falling, but not often. Last night, he had the touch early, and there was little doubt that jumper he knocked down to pass Shaq was going in.

Shortly afterward when a timeout was called, the Mavs bench paid their respects. Rick Carlisle got there first, briefly meeting him on the sidelines for a quick, professional congratulations. The teammates followed, with Zaza Pachulia offering a heartfelt hug and Charlie Villanueva following with another. Whether you’re a long-time Mavericks fan, a first-year Mavericks fan, or not a Mavericks fan at all, that’s a touching moment. Dirk isn’t likely to rise any higher on the all-time scoring list, but sixth place and 28,597 points is special enough as it is. Just look at that number. Focus on it, let it roll off your tongue: 28,597. You’d have to be almost 79 years old before you could claim to live that many days, and it’s far easier to do that than it is to score that number of points against the best basketball players the world has to offer.

Of course, Dirk didn’t stop there. He finished with 22 on the night, including what turned into the winning shot, and is currently sitting on 28,609 points now. A legend walks among us, and he’s still calmly going about his business every night as he fights to help the only NBA team he’s ever played for win games like these.

It was a rough game in many ways, considering the Nets entered play at 8-20 and with one of the very worst offenses in the league. Hilariously, they outdid Dallas 28-0 on second chance points, out-rebounded them, protected the ball better, and even somehow shot the ball well from three-point range, but still came up short. Chandler Parsons put up another rock-solid all-around effort, contributing 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists, and Wes Matthews buried five three-pointers in 10 attempts to put up 17 points himself.

There were many contributors in this game, a game I’d call a must-win that very nearly became a tough loss, but ultimately it all fades to the background when compared to Dirk’s accomplishments. I’m just glad the moment wasn’t tarnished by a losing effort, because the upcoming schedule is unforgiving, and a poor stretch here will only serve to remind us all that this is not a team capable of getting him another ring before he leaves us, loping gracefully into that shimmering ether, where all the NBA legends of the past await.

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