Spotlight belonged to Nowitzki, not Bryant
LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki were born two months apart in 1978, and they’ve both been NBA superstars for over a decade. They’ve won one league MVP award apiece, and Bryant has only a slight edge in career scoring averages and All-Star appearances.
Nobody would ever compare Nowitzki with Bryant in the metrics that matter most, however. In championships, in big-game performances, Dirk just isn’t in Kobe’s league.
Yet after Nowitzki and his Dallas Mavericks thoroughly outplayed Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers down the stretch of their 96-94 comeback victory in their second-round series opener, Nowitzki’s teammates think this might be the season their German 7-footer erases their mutual postseason reputation — although he’ll have to damage Bryant’s invincible aura to do it.
“He always wants the ball down the stretch, and he always finds a way to get it done,’’ said Dallas guard Jason Kidd, whose veteran defensive savvy also caused problems for Bryant. “He likes that stage. You don’t find a lot of guys who like that stage. Kobe is one of them, but (Nowitzki) has done a lot of work to get there with him. He and Kobe are the two best players on the floor, and he found a way to get it done last night.’’
Game 2 is tonight at Staples Center.
Although Bryant is widely perceived to be the NBA’s best late-game scorer after a 15-year career filled with clutch play, some statistics show Dirk is a better closer, including Nowitzki’s superior shooting percentage on last-minute shots in tight games. Bryant has missed crucial shots in several buzzer-beating situations over the past few postseasons, including his miss off the back rim to end Game 1.
Nowitzki scored 11 points in the fourth quarter Monday night, including four in the final 40 seconds. With Staples Center collectively screaming in his ear with 19.5 seconds to play, Nowitzki made two free throws to give Dallas its first lead of the second half.
“I’ve basically seen it all in this league,’’ Nowitzki said after the Mavericks’ workout at the Los Angeles Clippers’ training complex. “It’s my 13th year. I’ve got to be ready for anything. I can adjust to just about anything, and the good thing is we’ve got a lot of shooters on this team. We can do a lot of things.’’
Bryant scored 21 of his 36 points in the second half, but couldn’t close out the Mavs. His bad pass was stolen by Jason Terry with 20 ticks left, and he fumbled a handoff from Pau Gasol with 4 seconds left before missing a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.
Nowitzki was the cooler customer, while Bryant made crucial mistakes to cap the Lakers’ collapse.
Nowitzki and Bryant have struck up a friendship during times together at All-Star games or the Olympics, but Bryant doesn’t feel a personal rivalry with Nowitzki.
“It’s different, because it’s not a personal challenge for me to try to stop him or make things difficult for him,’’ Bryant said. “It’s a little different in that regard.’’