The Oklahoma City Thunder controlled Game 5 for nearly the entire second half, but Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks took over in the final minutes, and just like that, the Mavericks are back in the NBA Finals.
Second chances are rare in life and even moreso in the NBA, but Dirk Nowitzki earned this one. He's been ruthless all spring long, and now he's got the chance to avenge past failures in the NBA Finals, possibly against the Miami Heat team that beat him in 2006.
The Mavericks latest comeback began with Dirk Nowitzki, but it was the defense and rebounding of guys like Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler that ultimately proved too much to overcome for the young Thunder. Playing a smaller lineup in the fourth quarter gave OKC more scoring punch, but it came with a price on the other end. When Russell Westbrook is matched up with Tyson Chandler on the glass, the outcome's practically inevitable.
Indeed, with OKC clinging to a two-point lead with 90 seconds to go, Dirk Nowitzki missed a wide open three-pointer, only to have the loose ball go to Jason Terry after Tyson Chandler barreled into Westbrook as he tried to corral the rebound. Such is life when David's trying to box out Goliath.
In the end, even as the clock ticked down and the Oklahoma City stars stayed in control, Dallas was never willing to concede the game. Nowitzki and co. kept firing, and the Thunder kept giving them extra shots. It was only a matter of time before it caught up with them. It wasn't so much a comeback for the Maverick as it was a mismatch getting exploited at the worst time possible for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Ultimately, that's been the story of the series.
The Thunder may have been more talented, but in crunch time, the Mavericks were ruthless about exploiting their advantages. Where Oklahoma City and Scott Brooks struggled to find a rhythm, the Mavericks looked comfortable and confident from start to finish.
That's why Dallas is headed to the NBA Finals, where Dirk Nowitzki will try to do it all over again. He's been here before, and now he's got his second chance. It's too early to say whether Nowitzki's capable of doing all this against the Miami Heat.
For now, though, we can say this much for sure: Nobody in the NBA is doing a better job executing than the Dallas Mavericks. On paper, the Western Conference Finals were a toss-up, and Dirk and the Mavericks grabbed control without blinking. There's more work to be done, but until then, it's hard to imagine a more impressive journey to the NBA Finals.