The game itself, predictably, was also all about Nowitzki, with teammates, particularly the league’s rookie of the year favorite, Luka Doncic, feeding him incessantly as fans bayed at him to shoot at every opportunity.
Before tipoff, Nowitzki jokingly asked a team staffer to look up how many shots Kobe Bryant took on the way to scoring 60 points in Bryant’s farewell game in April 2016. Informed that Bryant hoisted 50 shots that night, Nowitzki conceded that he very likely wouldn’t reach that territory, but promised to “let it fly.” He wound up taking Dallas’s first eight shots, scored 19 points in the first half and finished with 30 points on 11-for-31 shooting to match what his longtime rival Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat managed in Wade’s final game before retirement Tuesday night.
The Suns’ Jamal Crawford, at 39, remarkably countered with 51 points, making Crawford the first player in league history to crack the 50-point mark with four different teams. The spotlight, though, never left Nowitzki, who revealed at a news conference after the game that he had decided in recent days that his surgically repaired left foot could not sustain a 22nd season.
“I would love to be there for K.P. and Luka and all these young guys and have fun with them and mentor them as much as I can,” Nowitzki said, referring to Dallas’s embryonic star duo of Kristaps Porzingis and Doncic. “But it just doesn’t make any sense anymore physically. I think mentally I could still do it — I can always push myself to work out hard — but physically the foot is just not quite there.”
Said Doncic, whose 21 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists were overshadowed, like Crawford’s scoring outburst, by the Nowitzki party, “I was emotional, and the whole team was emotional, so imagine him.”
Nowitzki acknowledged that he has been increasingly weepy over the past week, as the end of the regular season for the lottery-bound Mavericks — and a decision he could no longer delay — drew near. But he was openly giddy when he spoke of the former stars who shared in Tuesday’s festivities, proclaiming it an “amazing” evening.