Dirk Nowitzki scored 40 points in the Dallas Mavericks' stunning Game 4 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, pushing his team from a 15-point deficit with just five minutes left in regulation to an overtime win. There were two competing but complementary stories coming out of the game: the incredible disintegration of Oklahoma City's offense once James Harden fouled out midway through the fourth quarter, and Nowitzki's objectively amazing shots down the stretch.
One, a half-cocked off-the-dribble floater from the left baseline with two minutes left and the Mavericks down seven, seemed to represent the turning point. Even though the Mavericks had already fought to within single digits and made the Ford Center nervous, even though the Thunder were tightening up considerably, it was still a margin worth respecting.
But if Dirk is going to make shots like that? It's over. It's all over. And it was, eventually; Nowitzki hit a few more head-shakers, Oklahoma City made more than its share of head-shaking decisions -- Kevin Durant's final, fatal fling among them -- and that could very well be the series. The Thunder must now win three straight to earn a trip to the NBA Finals; two of those three, if needed, will be played in Dallas, where Oklahoma City split the first two games of the series.
If the Thunder can't return fire with a longer, more spectacular comeback than even Dallas' 15-point turnaround, the Mavericks will be back in the Finals for the first time since 2006. Of course, the team that beat them in 2006 -- the Miami Heat -- might join them.