SAN ANTONIO — Dirk Nowitzki said goodbye to the NBA the same way he came into the league, smoothly draining a jumper over a defender to punctuate a passionate performance.
It was only fitting that Nowitzki's final shot came against the San Antonio Spurs, a team he terrorized in the regular season and post-season. This time, however, the tears it stirred were tears of joy.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 34 points and 16 rebounds and the Spurs beat the Dallas Mavericks 105-94 Wednesday night in Nowitzki's final game.
"Everybody, players, fans, coaches and staff got to witness history watching him play his last game," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "He played a fine game, which was great. It's not surprising."
Nowitzki finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in the finale of his storied 21-season career — all with the Mavericks. Nowitzki announced he was retiring Tuesday night following Dallas' final home game of the season.
Wednesday's sell-out crowd cheered wildly each time Nowitzki entered the game or touched the ball and let out a collective groan when he missed a shot. He was serenaded with chants of "MVP!" throughout the game by the crowd filled with patrons wearing his No. 41 jersey.
"It was fantastic again tonight," Nowitzki said. "Felt almost like a home game, honestly."
The Spurs couldn't afford any sentimentality with playoff positioning at stake, and they didn't show any. San Antonio raced to a double-figure lead and led by as many as 22 points.
The Spurs finished seventh in the Western Conference as a result of Oklahoma City's 127-116 victory over Milwaukee. They will face second-seeded Denver in the opening round of the playoffs.
The regular-season finale turned out to be a win for everyone. San Antonio won, Nowitzki led the Mavericks in scoring and Popovich, the Spurs and San Antonio's fans got to say goodbye to the future Hall of Famer.
"He was having a lot of fun tonight, I was really happy for him," Popovich said.
It was appropriate that Nowitzki's final game came against the Spurs, who he has had many memorable battles against. Perhaps the most memorable was the 2006 Western Conference finals against San Antonio. After the Spurs battled back from a 3-1 series deficit and a 20-point lead in Game 7, Manu Ginobili fouled Nowitzki on a layup with 21.6 seconds remaining. Nowitzki made the free throw to forge a tie and the Mavs went on to win in overtime on the way to the franchise's first NBA Finals appearance.
"If it's not at home, this kind of works perfect," Nowitzki said of San Antonio. "This team was always sort of the big brother. They were beating us and then we kind of found a way to get through them in '06. To me, probably still one of the best playoff series I've been a part of and probably some of the best basketball in that series that I've ever played in my life."
Nowitzki was able to turn back the clock, shooting 8 for 21 in 32 minutes, including going 2 for 6 on 3-pointers. His final shot was a 20-footer over Spurs rookie Drew Eubanks with 49.7 seconds remaining.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle subbed Nowitzki following the shot, leading to an ovation of cheers and chants of "Dirk" and "MVP."
"It's cool playing against Dirk tonight," Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said. "Seeing him out there and playing against one of the greatest of all time for the last time, it was cool. Hopefully, I got a good photo op."
Derozan finished with 19 points and Derrick White added 14 for the Spurs, who finished with a 49-34 record.
Justin Jackson and Courtney Lee added 14 points each for Dallas, which was without Rookie of the Year candidate Luka Doncic.
Mavericks: Nowitzki averaged 15.3 minutes and started 20 games this season, the lowest numbers of his career. He started 24 games as a rookie while playing 20.4 minutes. ... Nowitzki has played 38 games in San Antonio, tied for the third-highest total of any player. Utah legends Karl Malone and John Stockton each played 46 games in San Antonio. Denver's Alex English played 39, and Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon played 38. ... Doncic missed three of Dallas' final four games due to a thigh injury. He missed back-to-back games against Memphis with a bruised right thigh, played 32 minutes against Phoenix, and missed the team's finale with a bruised left thigh.
Spurs: Bryn Forbes finished with 10 points in 26 minutes. . San Antonio only had four players in double figures.
THANK YOU, DIRK
The Spurs played a 1 1/2-minute tribute video in honour of Nowitzki, highlighting his 21 seasons in the NBA.
Nowitzki looked up to watch the video on the big screen at the AT&T Center, but had to turn away as he began to cry.
"The first 20, 30 seconds, I was kind of holding it (in)," Nowitzki said. "I was like, 'That's sweet,' and then it just kind of all came out. I'm not sure why. Not only did they show highlights from my career, but they showed highlights from me beating up on the Spurs, which was even more incredible."
Mavericks: The off-season.
Spurs: First round of the Western Conference playoffs against Denver.
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