HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (CHICAGO OFFICE) — It’s now Wednesday, the day after. Has Dirk Nowitzki missed a shot yet?
Sure seems like he left Game 1 hotter than a man smoking a cigarette at a gas pump. No matter what the Thunder did in Game 1 — and really, what could they do? — Dirk kept making shots from everywhere: the rim, mid-range and especially the free-throw line, setting a playoff record for consecutive makes with 24.
Our main man Randy Galloway at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram summed up the plight of the Thunder pretty well:
Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals gave us the answer.
Q — Who stops Dirk for the Oklahoma City Thunder?
Let’s see now:
The Thunder ran Serge Ibaka at him, then Nick Collison, and after that it was a collection of Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, while James Harden took a brief spin, and even Russell Westbrook got his turn.
Who will be next for Game 2?
Barry Switzer? Will Rogers? Any other famous citizens of Oklahoma who could possibly get a shot?
A — There appears to be nobody who stops Dirk.
But check back Thursday in Game 2.
That epic 48-point performance helped earn the Mavs a 1-0 lead in the West finals. It also confirmed what we’ve been seeing from Dirk all year, that he’s playing at MVP level here in his 30s, when most players start reaching for ice bags and a breather.
The reason is simple, really: Shooters are always the last to go. Dirk is enjoying a long and productive career the same reason Reggie Miller did and Ray Allen continues to do. The exception is Dirk at 32 is ahead of Reggie and Allen at 32, mainly because he’s a 7-footer who’s virtually un-guardable and also chips in on the glass.
That’s not to say Dirk is MVP of the league’s all-30 team. As impressive as Dirk’s been this season and particularly last night — and nobody ever shot the ball better than Dirk did in Game 1, even in their 20s — he trails a few other old guys on the list. But just a few.
Here’s a list of some filthy players in their dirty 30s who delayed the aging process. You decide where Dirk fits:
Karl Malone: He’s the oldest MVP winner at 36, going from delivering the mail to delivering Rogaine. Malone kept himself in supreme shape and also transformed his game, from a bruising behemoth who lived in the paint and the free throw line to a jump shooter who became deadly from 18 feet. That added years to Malone’s career. Never could become wise enough in his old age to figure a way to win a title, though.
Michael Jordan: Second-oldest at 35 to win MVP, and really, from a consistency standpoint, nobody in their 30s compares to Jordan. Maybe Barry Bonds, but we (wink-wink) suspect how he did it. After 30, Jordan won three titles, made first-team All-NBA four times and MVP twice. He also made trainer Tim Grover very famous.
Steve Nash: Remember, he was Dirk’s less-accomplished teammate until Mavericks owner Mark Cuban refused to pay Nash (instead, Cuban gave money to Erick Dampier; go figure). Nash then went to Phoenix and transformed his career, winning two MVPs (at age 31 and 32) before Dirk won his only one. Nash would probably have an NBA title had he not been shoved into the scorer’s table by Robert Horry. And he’s still going strong today.
Kevin Garnett: He was Defensive Player of the Year and an NBA champ at age 32, when he somehow found a burst of energy after so many unfulfilled years in Minnesota. If you left the Wolves to join Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, you’d feel rejuvenated, too.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: He was MVP at 30 and 33, Finals MVP at 38 and won 5 of his 6 championships in his 30s. Nobody got more mileage out of one shot (sky hook).
The difference between Dirk and all of the above? He’s the only one on the floor right now, adding to his over-30 resume.
So, what say you?