View Full Version : When It Counts

06-08-2011, 05:05 PM
For all of their obvious differences, Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James share a common burden: the idea that for all of their prodigious talent, they hadn’t delivered in the biggest moments, that their lack of an N.B.A. championship reflected some sort of character flaw. With James, it was possible even to extrapolate that he knew this, and it’s why he joined a team of stars in Miami instead of insisting a champion be built around him in Cleveland.

So it was possible to spin an intriguing morality tale out of Tuesday night’s Game 4 of the N.B.A. finals. With the pressure mounting, James greeted the occasion with 8 points, his worst playoff output ever. For Nowitzki, the occasion was complicated by a 101-degree fever and a sinus infection that had him expectorating through every nonbasketball moment. And yet he led the Mavericks back from a 9-point deficit in the fourth quarter, and despite an ugly shooting night over all, he hit key shots when it mattered. No, it wasn’t in the Michael Jordan category of flu games, writes Ken Berger on CBSSports.com, but we should all toast a shot of Robitussin in his direction.
In the annals of clutch, Nowitzki just took a one-game lead.

From their point of view, the Heat players could not even tell Nowitzki was sick, writes Dan Wetzel on Yahoo.com. What they felt was a crushing comeback surge, which doesn’t rank with the most impressive Dallas comebacks of these playoffs but was the gutsiest under the circumstances, writes Tim MacMahon on ESPN.com. And Nowitzki seemed larger in every comparison to James, writes Jennifer Floyd Engel in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

It was made worse for James because the playoffs had been his oyster for the first three rounds, writes Lee Jenkings on SI.com, which made his drop-off even more noticeable. It sparked memories of the great give-up at the end of the Cavaliers-Celtics series last year and seemed to fit into James’s history of wilting when the moment is biggest, writes Bill Reiter on Foxsports.com. James won’t shake that memory, writes Israel Gutierrez in The Miami Herald, until he has a big game in the biggest moment.