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Nowitzki had to shift gears

Dallas star came through in clutch

Dirk Nowitzki (16 points) got by Kevin Garnett (5) and Rajon Rondo, but he was held in check - until the final seconds. Dirk Nowitzki (16 points) got by Kevin Garnett (5) and Rajon Rondo, but he was held in check - until the final seconds. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 12, 2012
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Dirk Nowitzki did not get many of the shots he and his Mavericks teammates wanted during a 90-85 win over the Celtics last night. In fact, Nowitzki did not get many shots, period.

“I think I only took three shots [in the second half],’’ Nowitzki said. “That’s got to be the least I’ve taken in a while in a half - just because I couldn’t get any clean touches.’’

But Nowitzki made all three of those attempts count, including a final 3-point play drive for the deciding points. On that drive, which made it 88-85, Nowitzki had little room to maneuver, thanks to Kevin Garnett’s in-your-face defending. But Nowitzki bumped Garnett back just enough, then went right and finished while drawing a foul from Brandon Bass.

“He was really up tight on me,’’ Nowitzki said, “basically making me put the ball on the floor and that’s what I did. I was able to get to the rim, I didn’t even see the ball go in, to be honest. I just threw it up there, and was a little lucky it went in.’’

Luck, though, has had little to do with the 22,997 career points Nowitzki has scored. The Celtics limited Nowitzki to five field goals and 16 points, but they could not stop him when they needed to.

“I thought I was going to break it,’’ Nowitzki said of the 23,000-point barrier. “But it didn’t work that way. Hopefully, [tomorrow]. It’s a milestone but it’s more about getting the team together. Milestones are going to be great once my career is over.’’

Garnett’s defending did not seem to upset Nowitzki as much as it did Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who was ejected protesting a non-call early in the second half.

“This is just my opinion but I don’t think Kevin Garnett should be able to bear hug Dirk when he’s trying to come off a screen,’’ Carlisle said. “I thought that’s something that should not be allowed. I’m pretty vigilant about my feeling about that. It’s going to cost me a few thousand dollars but, you know what, you’ve got to make the point. It was a foul that should have been called. That’s the way it is.’’

The Celtics, like most teams, try to crowd Nowitzki on his shot. Brian Scalabrine took the tactic to the limit three years ago, sacrificing himself in an attempt to stop Nowitzki, but being doubly penalized as he sustained a concussion and also was charged with a foul.

These days, though, the Celtics are not leaving Nowitzki to the reserves.

“KG didn’t leave me all night,’’ Nowitzki said. “He didn’t give me good looks. He really fronted me, denied me, pick and rolls he was in front of me all the time. I couldn’t really get any good catches.

“You saw him playing in front of me, denying. As soon as I would come over halfcourt, KG was on me.’’

But on the Mavericks’ deciding possession, Nowitzki took advantage of a Jason Terry screen.

“Jet [Terry] set a good down screen and that was the play,’’ Nowitzki said. “Just get me open. I was going to run to halfcourt if I had to. But Jet set a good screen and I was able to catch it.’’

This was a particularly impressive Dallas performance, in a back-to-back situation without guard Jason Kidd.

“It’s always fun to play here,’’ Nowitzki said. “They’ve got a great squad, future Hall of Famers on the team. So it’s always fun. The fans always show up for this game. Last year it went down to a last-second shot by [Kidd]. It’s a fun building to compete in and get a win.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at fdellapa@globe.com.

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