"He's going too early!"
That comment from ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy got Maverick fans worked up at the end of Game 4, even as Dirk Nowitzki was scoring to put his team up by three points with 14.4 seconds left. True, there was plenty of time left for Miami, and the Heat scored on a dunk from Dwayne Wade with nine second left. But Jason Terry's two free throws a couple seconds later put Dallas back in front by three, and the Mavs held on to win 86-83.
After Dirk's lay-up went through and Miami called a time out, Van Gundy said, "Sometimes, even when you're wrong, you're right." But was Dirk wrong to start his move with 17 seconds left on the game clock (12 on the shot clock)? I don't think so.
Dirk is a much different than other great closers like Dwayne Wade or Kobe Bryant, or Michael Jordan from the 1990's. Not bad-different ... just different. Dirk is widely regarded as the best closer in the NBA right now, and he has proven that in this series alone, with his fourth-quarter and final-minute scoring. But he is not the type of player who can create his shot right now.
It's no secret that Dirk is not the most athletically gifted player on the court; arguably, the only time he looks smooth is the moment when the ball comes spinning out of his right hand from one of his jump shots. So he doesn't have the luxury of waiting until the clock gets down to five-four-three seconds before making his move. He's not exactly a player who has to take what the defense gives him -- he can take what he wants, most of the time -- but he does need time to set up his move. And depending on how the defense plays him, he can take 10 seconds to find the opening he needs, or he can take immediate advantage of Udonis Haslem leaning too much on his left shoulder like he did Tuesday night.
I've always been of the opinion that if a player gets a good shot, he needs to take it, even if he sacrifices a few seconds. Let's take it to the extreme -- 20 seconds left, Dirk gets the ball at his sweet spot, 17 feet away from the basket on the wing -- and absolutely no one covers him. They leave him wide open. Does he shoot it, or wait for the clock to run down? I think you take the shot, because who knows what kind of look you get later? In this scenario, Dirk makes that shot 80-90% of the time, as opposed to waiting for the clock to run down and ending up with a much lower-percentage shot.
I understand conventional wisdom in end-game situations, and I'm sure Dirk does too. I'm glad he didn't allow his decision to be dictated by it.