With the start of 2019-20 NBA playoffs delayed, theScore's basketball editors are picking their favorite first-round series from years past. Today, we're looking back at the epic 2007 matchup between the league-leading Dallas Mavericks and the "We Believe" Golden State Warriors.
Dirk Nowitzki had the NBA right where he wanted it. After frittering away a 2-0 series lead in the 2006 Finals versus the Miami Heat, the Mavericks stormed back with a vengeance during the 2006-07 regular season, winning a league-best 67 games to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
And though he wouldn't know it until mid-May, Nowitzki was voted the league's regular-season MVP. The German superstar earned that honor by averaging 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game while nailing 41.6% of his 3-pointers.
Meanwhile, the Warriors barely broke even on the season, going 42-40 thanks to a 9-1 closing run. That late surge was enough to book a ticket to the postseason for the first time since 1994 under new (and former) head coach Don "Nellie" Nelson.
In a lot of ways, the Warriors - led by colorful personalities like Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis, Al Harrington, and Matt Barnes - were lucky to be there. No one believed this rag-tag squad actually had a fighting chance against the mighty Mavericks ... right?
Role reversal: The Mavs were in trouble from the get-go. The Warriors stole Game 1 on the road thanks to a big outing from Davis. He scored a game-high 33 points (including 26 in the second half) to go along with 14 rebounds, eight assists, three steals, and a block in the tone-setting 97-85 win. Meanwhile, Nowitzki shot just 4-of-16 from the field - with zero threes - for just 14 points.
In fact, Dirk wouldn't connect on a 3-pointer until late in Game 4 - after which the Mavs found themselves down 3-1. The unlikely chance of becoming the first No. 1 seed to fall to a No. 8 since the NBA made the first round a best-of-seven affair had become much greater.
The Warriors' knockout blow came four nights later with a 111-86 Game 6 uppercut at Oracle Arena.
The stars: Nowitzki did little to shed his (at the time) reputation as a choker. After joining the vaunted "50-40-90 Club" in the regular season, his shooting splits cratered to 38.3% from the field overall, 21.1% from long range, and 84% on free throws versus the Warriors. His scoring dropped to 19.7 points per game.
In fact, it was Josh Howard who led the Mavs in scoring that series. The small forward averaged 21.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 2.2 steals per game, posting team highs in Games 1, 2, and 6. Dirk who?
On the other side, Davis, a two-time All-Star earlier in his career, led the Warriors in scoring three times for a series-best 25 points per game. Jackson added 22.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.7 dimes per contest, while Richardson averaged just under 20 points and seven boards.
X-factor: Mickael Pietrus is easy to overlook on a Warriors team with so many big personalities. During his fourth NBA season in 2006-07, the native of Guadeloupe started 38 of his 72 appearances, though he was largely relegated to a bench role after the additions of Jackson and Harrington in January.
In any case, Pietrus saved his best postseason outing for Game 4 - the closest contest of the series - scoring a personal playoff high of 16 points and picking off Devin Harris' last-second inbound pass to ice Golden State's pivotal 103-99 victory.
Sadly, the most lasting memory of the series - an enraged Nowitzki leaving a gash in the wall outside the visitor's locker room after angrily throwing a trash can following Game 6 - was not caught on video.
In lieu of that unseen-yet-iconic moment in NBA history, check out the Warriors' reel of their big series win:
That first-round series would end up being the "We Believe" Warriors' apex. The Utah Jazz sent them home in five games in the conference semis, and the team failed to return to the playoffs in 2008 despite improving to 48 regular-season wins. The ultra-competitive Western Conference was unkind to sub-50-win sides in those days.
Afterward, Baron Davis left as a free agent in 2008. Stephen Jackson was flipped to the Bobcats early in the 2009-10 season. Nelson resigned as the coach prior to the 2010-11 campaign. The franchise didn't return to the postseason until 2013. By that point, center Andris Biedrins was the lone holdover from the 2006-07 squad.
As for the Mavericks, the team finally broke through in 2011, scoring an upset title victory over LeBron James' "Heatles" squad. A choker no more, Nowitzki was named Finals MVP.
Today, if Dirk wants to relive the nadir of his professional career, he'll have to travel to San Francisco. The Warriors preserved his addition to the "We Believe" team's lore - which now bears his autograph - behind plexiglass, even relocating the hole to their new home at Chase Center.