DALLAS – The Dirk Nowitzki-Larry Bird comparisons got old a long time ago – different guys, different eras, different responsibilities, same hair color and flesh tone. But finally, after Game 3 of The Finals Sunday at American Airlines Center, there was a legitimate reason to drop their names into the same sentence.
Nowitzki, on a free-throw binge in the 2011 postseason, made all nine of this attempts from the line in Dallas’ 88-86 loss to the Miami Heat. That left him at 154-for-164 (.939) in these playoffs and, more impressive, 948-for-1,064 in his playoff career.
And that nudged him past Bird for the highest free-throw percentage in NBA playoff history among shooters who have had at least 1,000 attempts.
That list isn’t a long one – just 17 players deep – but it’s a select one, featuring some of the greatest players ever (Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Elgin Baylor and more). Nowitzki climbed on this spring and, with his flawless foul form Sunday, crept past Bird as the most accurate among this elite group.
Nowitzki’s success rate over 121 lifetime playoff games is .89097. Bird, at 901-for-1,012, sank .89031 of his FTAs.
Other NBA marksmen did better than that in the playoffs – nine, if you go by the league’s minimum requirement of 100 free throws made – but none sustained into quadruple double-digit attempts. The top three in postseason free-throw percentage – Mark Price, .944 (202-for-214); Calvin Murphy, .932 (165-for-177) and Bill Sharman, .911 (370-for-406) – all shot considerably fewer free throws than Bird or Nowitzki.
The Mavericks power forward is 24-for-24 in The Finals through three games, contributing mightily to Dallas’ 64-47 scoring edge from the line (Miami has outscored the Mavs 226-201 in points off field goals).
Seven players in Finals history have shot a perfect 1.000 from the line but none of them attempted more than 13 free throws. Among those who took more, Reggie Miller (.978, 45-for-46 in 2000) and Sharman (.968, 30-for-31 in 1958) were the most accurate. Both Magic Johnson in 1987 and Ray Allen a year ago were 24-for-25, .960. Which Nowitzki can match by missing his next attempt.