Dirk enjoys a Super Sunday

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

The shrill, high-pitched voice of Avery Johnson echoed through the Dallas Mavericks locker room.

"Dirk, three minutes," said Johnson, the acting head coach who is filling in for the ailing Don Nelson, as Dirk Nowitzki spoke with the media.

"Let's go, let's go. We're not even going to see the second half if we don't get out of here."

Johnson was worried about getting home to Dallas in time to see the second half of the Super Bowl. But it mainly was thanks to Nowitzki that the Mavs survived a frantic second half in their own game yesterday.

So perhaps Johnson should have been a little more patient with his star player following a 122-113 victory over the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre.

If only Nowitzki had lost his temper, bounced a ball off an official's leg and been ejected. When Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards did that on Friday, the Raptors seized the momentum and erased a 22-point deficit en route to a victory.

"If that had happened (to Nowitzki), we probably would have won again," Raptors point guard Rafer Alston said with a weary laugh.

Yesterday, the Raptors cut a 25-point deficit down to five points with nine minutes to play, but that's when Nowitzki flexed his big German muscles. He hit a 16-foot jumper, grabbed a rebound off a missed Raptors free-throw, nailed a 15-foot jumper, snared a rebound off a missed Toronto field goal, and then swished an 18-footer.

BACK UP BY 10

Suddenly, the Mavericks were up by 10 points.

"Offensively, we pretty much got what we wanted all night long," said Nowitzki, who had a game-high 30 points and added 11 rebounds. "We shot 60% from the floor, which doesn't really happen very much.

"We talked about it in the timeouts. Don't relax, keep on them. But I guess it's easier said than done."

Nowitzki's heroics aside, the biggest single shot of the game was the three-pointer Mavericks guard Jason Terry hit with 36.1 seconds to go, after the Raptors had clawed back to within four points.

"Very fortunate play for me, because I'm coming off the pick-and-roll, I find Dirk, and it was a bad pass to him," said Terry, who had 15 points and 11 assists. "It just bounced around, bounced around, and it came back to me. It was a blessing I knocked it down."

Johnson expressed relief his club had averted disaster to improve to 31-15.

"I guess that's Toronto's pattern, to let you get up and feel good about yourself, and then they show you who's the real team," Johnson said.

"I guess our guys just didn't believe me. They thought, that's just me being a coach, that I'm just talking crazy. We tried to support it with some film, but I guess they thought the guys in Toronto uniforms were impersonators or something like that."

What has irked the Mavericks in recent years is the accusation that they merely have impersonated title contenders. Obviously, they miss Nowitzki's best friend and partner-in-crime, Steve Nash, who bolted to the Phoenix Suns last summer. But now the Mavs slowly are trying to develop a new, tougher identity in the cut-throat Western Conference.

"We've been through 55- and 60-win seasons, and they didn't get us anywhere," outspoken Mavs owner Mark Cuban said. "So, all I care about is the playoffs."

For the record, Cuban was referring to the NBA playoffs, not the NFL playoffs, Johnson's post-game impatience notwithstanding.

Either way, Nowitzki's performance yesterday accurately defined the term Super Sunday.


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