It doesn't seem real.
Somehow, the Mavericks are one win away from the NBA title. It's been incredible every step of the way, but never more than Thursday night. Dallas didn't just step up in Game 5, they jumped into a different world. Teams just aren't supposed to shoot 55 percent from the field in an NBA Finals game, let alone nearly 70 percent from three. And yet Miami still kept pace for just about the entire 48 minutes.
That just isn't how big games are supposed to go. Usually when the stakes are as high as they were Thursday, teams will come out a little too fired up. Guys get so wound up for games like these, it takes a little while for both teams to settle in, then in crunch time, it gets ugly again.
For instance, remember the fourth quarter in Game 4? Back when both teams went five minutes without a field goal? In Game 5, it felt like every five seconds another insane three dropped down from the sky, and it just kept coming. It was a shake-your-head type show on both sides. The Mavericks just had a little more juice at the end, and that was the difference.
In any case, both these teams somehow upped the ante on awesomeness Thursday. And with that in mind, I couldn't let another LeBron James feature be the only thing to come out of Thursday's game. So here are five scattered thoughts on another classic from these NBA Finals.
RIDIRKULOUS. Spinning on the block for an easy lay-in. Pump-faking to draw contact before pulling back for an unblockable fade-away. Getting to the line where he never, ever misses. Passing out of double teams to hit wide-open shooters on the perimeter. Coming off screens to hit that 18-foot jumper from the foul line extended. Posting up, then falling away. Unblockable. Unguardable. Kind of unbelievable. This is where we are with Dirk right now.
People love comparing today's superstars to legends of the past, but honestly, the most amazing thing about Dirk Nowitzki is how suddenly his legacy's changed. Six weeks ago, he was one of today's greatest scorers and something of a martyr on an average Dallas team. Today, he's one of the game's greatest players and a budding NBA legend. It's hard to wrap your head around.
Maybe he was always this good and we just didn't give him enough credit, or maybe he's taken it up a notch this spring. Maybe this year's supporting cast in Dallas is the perfect mix to let him shine, or maybe he's playing so well, that it makes mostly average players look great.
There's a chicken-and-egg dynamic to everything that's going on in Dallas right now, but one thing's for certain--Dirk's been absolutely vicious all playoffs long, and it's continued like clockwork in the NBA Finals. He may not have the talent of LeBron, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a guy play more perfect basketball than Dirk Nowitzki right now. However we contextualize Dirk within some broader NBA history, this Finals run should go down as one of the more stunning displays we've ever seen.
At this point, his whole game is the equivalent of Ray Allen's jumpshot. Ruthlessly efficient and beautiful at the same time. So perfect that analysis seems beside the point. Just sit back and enjoy it.
MIAMI IS CHOKING AWAY AN NBA TITLE. LeBron James is a whole separate issue, but it needs to be said for the Heat, in general. No matter how well the Mavs have played, Miami's the more talented team, and if they lose this series, it'll go down as one of the more epic choke jobs in recent NBA history. Pin it on 'Bron, Bosh, Spoelstra, whatever. It's happening.
In Game 2 they led by 15 points with seven minutes left. In Game 4, they were up nine points with 10 minutes to play. In Game 5, they came back after trailing for most of the third quarter and took a four-point lead with four minutes to play. From there, they got outscored 17-4.
It's pretty talk radio-ish to call anyone out for "choking" in sports, but what else do you call it when a team has (on paper) better players and keeps blowing fourth-quarter leads in the NBA Finals? If the Mavs can pull out one more win in Miami, they'll have pulled off one of the better Finals upsets of the last twenty years. But on the other end of every miracle upset is a team that choked.
Miami has one more chance before they become the butt of the joke.
SHAWN AND DESHAWN AND TYSON AND WAR. Dallas' supporting cast may not be that talented in a conventional sense. Tyson Chandler's post moves are NSFW, Shawn Marion's jumpshot is a crime against human decency, and every time Deshawn Stevenson touches the basketball it feels like an acid trip that can one of two ways. But you really couldn't ask for better soldiers to go to war with.
Tyson protects the rim as well as any big man in basketball, and his rebounding consistently gives the Mavs second chances they don't deserve, and keeps Miami from getting extra looks on the other end. Meanwhile, Stevenson and Marion are as overmatched as anyone else against Wade and LeBron, but they don't concede an inch, and all series long, they've smothered Miami's superstars better than anyone's done all playoffs. All three of them are fearless, tireless and tougher than anyone on the Heat except for (maybe) Dwyane Wade.
They don't give MVPs to mediocre guys who fight their ass off and make the other team's life a living hell, but just for the record... Without these three guys setting the tone, the Finals would be over by now.
JASON TERRY AND J.J. BAREA AND THE GRASSY KNOLL. We use the term "assassin" for guys like Dirk Nowitzki, but when you think about it, don't the most infamous assassinations in history always come from guys that are a lot more anonymous and sorta random?
FINALLY, MIAMI'S NOT DEAD YET. Before Thursday, Miami hadn't lost two straight games for the entire playoffs. They're definitely too good to lose three straight, right? At home, with a little (or a lot) more love from the refs in Game 6, it's hard to see them losing. Obviously Dallas has the momentum at this point, but you could say the same thing when the Celtics went back to L.A. up 3-2 last year. If Miami comes through in Game 6 (and they should) then we're back to square one, and everybody has one last chance to prove themselves.
Miami may be struggling, but in Game 6, would you bet against them? What I'm saying is: The morning after one of the best NBA Finals games in history, how does a Game 7 sound?