Two totally different players from two totally different eras. Dirk's a better scorer, inside and out. Bird's a better defender, rebounder, passer and all-around team player. Bird played for the Celtics in the 1980s and won three titles; Dirk came 20 years later and so far, has won nothing.
You could even go so far as to call the comparison a case of latent racism. Other than being big, tall guys who occasionally hit big shots, what else do they have in common besides the pale tone of their skin?
On the other hand …
What we saw from Dirk on Tuesday night, leading the Mavericks back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to salvage a win and a 1-1 split in Miami, was a Bird-like performance. It took more than just clutch shot-making ability — it took determination, leadership, focus and incredible toughness.
"The guy had a torn finger," said his coach, Rick Carlisle. "So there you go."
The Miami Heat went up 88-73 on the Mavs with 7:13 to go, with Dwyane Wade hitting a dagger of a 3-pointer that triggered a little celebration in front of the Dallas bench. The game looked all but over, and the Heat were basking in it. They appeared to be headed to the Lone Star State up 2-0, in prime position to make this a short NBA Finals.
That's when Dirk and the Mavs came back. They finished the game on a 22-5 run, with all of the final nine points coming from the big German himself.
A lot of things from this game reminded you of Larry Legend. There was the never-say-die attitude. There was the equally poised play on both ends. There was the way he wasn't afraid to cuss out his own teammate, Jason Terry, for giving Mario Chalmers a wide-open 3.
But most importantly there was his game-winning bucket, a driving layup with 3 seconds left to put the Mavs up for good, 95-93. He made it with his left hand despite a torn tendon in his middle finger.
Softness? What softness?
"That was a big finish," Shawn Marion said. "Big-time move. That's what it takes."
Dirk finished with 24 points on 10-of-22 shooting, 11 rebounds and four assists. Not bad, but that's not what earns him the comparisons to a certain former Celtic.
"I played with Bird for three years, when he was the best player in the world," said Carlisle, a former Celtic himself. "Guys like that don't feel pain right now. You play, and if you're feeling pain, you make yourself numb so you don't. You've got to play, and you've got to be a warrior."
Nowitzki never once made an excuse about his injured finger. Why would he? What's on the line now is far more important than a silly little finger. Seeing a lifetime goal within his reach, Nowitzki blocked the pain out and fought.
"It felt great," he said. "I thought it wasn't going to bother me before the game, and it didn't. We were able to keep the tape a little lower, so I was able to keep my grip on the ball."
We've reached the point where nothing matters. Doesn't matter how much you hurt him, how closely you guard him, how tough of circumstances you put in his way. This championship means so much to Dirk that he just doesn't care.
"We've seen times when they've thrown three guys at him," Carlisle said. "There's nothing he hasn't seen."
Great winners are the ones who can overcome anything. Bill Russell was one, Michael Jordan was one, and of course Bird was one.
Dirk doesn't talk about himself in that way. He hardly says much of anything about himself, as a matter of fact. But he keeps on coming up big for his team in big situations.
"Definitely a huge comeback for us," he said. "We never gave up, and that was big."
His words are understated, but his play sure hasn't been. He's looking like one of the greats.
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