A Daily Babble Production
Leon Powe heads into the All-Star break on a roll over the last week. He started with efficient double-digit scoring performances against the Lakers and Knicks. An inspired fourth quarter in New Orleans followed, with The Show scoring seven of his 11 in the final period while pounding the glass hard as always. The Dallas Mavericks joined Powe's list of recent victims last night, but that came with a twist: Leon put on perhaps his finest defensive performance of the season.
Through three quarters of last night's contest, Dirk Nowitzki brought his A-game and pounded the Celtics' defense with it. Left wing spin into the lane for a dunk. Right block spin off his man for a layup. Mid-range pull-up. Baseline drives and pull-ups in the lane for what appeared to be circus shots. Fouls drawn left and right. It was all working for Dirk, including two high-degree-of-difficulty drives to the left-side that he guided in over the outstretched arms of Kevin Garnett. By the end of three quarters, the man who occasionally seems to get glossed over in discussions of the NBA's most dynamic offensive players had poured in 31 points on 11-for-20 shooting from the field and 8-for-10 from the foul line.
But for all the damage that Nowitzki did to the Celtics' defense early on, he wasn't prepared for what he got from Leon Powe in the game's final quarter. With Kevin Garnett on the bench due to foul trouble, the (vertically) undersized Powe took on the responsibility of guarding Nowitzki. Without height on his side, Powe went to the strength in his frame, and he didn't give an inch.
On the inside, Powe stayed low, kept his feet just less than shoulder-width apart and refused to budge at Dirk's whim. He may have gotten away with a bit of bumping, but he used his lower body to continuously drive Nowitzki away from the basket. The taller forward didn't take a single shot at the rim in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, on the perimeter, Powe refused to let his lack of natural speed do the Celtics in. He did as good a job as we've seen of moving his feet, using his bulk on a couple of occasions to slow Dirk down just enough to allow him to stay between his man and the basket. On nearly every shot Dirk took, Powe forced him to rise up into his body, as he was always right there with a hand to contest the jumpers.
Nowitzki deserves credit for making two huge shots late in the game. The first was the three that tied the game with less than two minutes to play. Leon wasn't quite as close as he should have been, given the situation, and the sharpshooter knocked it down without much deterrence. The 12-footer he hit on the Mavs' next possession, however, came with a significant amount of difficulty, thanks to Powe sticking with him the entire play and not letting him get any closer to the bucket than that leaning-away jumper just inside the elbow. Hats off to Dirk for managing to hit that shot and for having the confidence to take the one before it.
But hats off to Powe for his work on Dirk Nowitzki on every other play in the fourth quarter. He held Dirk to 2-for-8 shooting for the quarter and sent him to the foul line only once in the period.
Until fouling out with 26 seconds to play, Leon Powe had played every second of the fourth quarter. Given the effort and results he gave the Celtics, particularly at the defensive end, he deserved to be out there for every one of those seconds.