Tonight’s the night in Big D
DALLAS It is almost embarrassing, this land of sporting riches that we inhabit. And now tonight comes the biggest night of all.
Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Game, World Series … Manny Pacquiao fights … TCU football … Dallas Baptist baseball (who knew?) … everybody, just move over and make way for Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
It’s not winner-take-all, but it’s winner-take-the-lead-back-to-Miami for Game 6. And I will argue that’s what makes American Airlines Center not only the place to be Thursday night but the site of the biggest local sporting event since the first Cowboys-Packers NFL Championship in the Cotton Bowl.
In other words, if your sports brain doesn’t take you back to New Year’s Day 1967, get ready for the biggest game of your life.
Bigger than the last Heat-Mavs Finals, in terms of home games, because by the time the Mavs returned after those middle three games in Miami, it was a foregone conclusion that the steamrolling Heat was about to be crowned.
Bigger than last fall’s World Series because by the time we got this deep into the series—Game 5—the Giants already had the Rangers on the ropes and merely used the Arlington stage to finish the job.
Thanks for coming, Cliff Lee.
Yes, I’m fully aware the Cowboys always have and always will dwarf everything in this area. (Jerry Jones would suggest changing “area” to “world” in that last sentence.) They have captured NFC titles locally, but their Super Bowl triumphs happened elsewhere.
That’s why I have to go all the way back to that first Dallas-Green Bay game when the Mavericks, Rangers and Stars did not exist, when the prelude to the very first Super Bowl was bigger than the Super Bowl itself … because the NFL-AFL Championship wasn’t even yet called the Super Bowl.
By the time this series ends, it should have its own place among memorable NBA Finals, what with all of these two-point and three-point margins of victory. It’s impossible to think that all of the drama is played out and we are destined for blowouts in the last two or three games.
At the very, very least, it tops what turned into the Dwyane Wade Show five years ago … even though Wade is still putting on one magnificent act.
In fact, he was the best player on the floor again in Game 4. But in the final minute—a degree of time that has now tormented the Heat twice in this series—Wade lost the stage to Dirk Nowitzki, whose legacy just picked up another amazing chapter on the way to Thursday night’s swing game.
We have seen Nowitzki achieve near perfection in these playoffs (48 points, three missed shots vs. Oklahoma City). We have seen him make the final field goal in both Mavericks’ victories in this series.
One of those came despite a torn tendon in a finger. The other came at the end of a game in which he shook off fever and the chills to keep Miami from putting this series on ice Tuesday night.
These teams were dead even in the playoffs (12-3) when the Finals began. They are dead even now. For Mavericks fans, it’s nothing short of the best playoff run ever.
“Every game in the playoffs can be a huge momentum swing,” Nowitzki said Wednesday. “For a month and a half, you’re living on the edge.”
The things that were supposed to tilt the series in Miami’s favor (more superstars) or Dallas’ way (greater depth) have not materialized on any kind of predictable basis.
The play of LeBron James, somewhere between puzzling and downright mind-boggling, has left Wade to carry the load as he did against Dallas five years ago. A glance at the numbers of the series’ two best players would say that Wade is outplaying Nowitzki by a wide margin. Both have taken 80 shots and, incredibly, Wade has made 13 more.
And yet the series is tied because if Nowitzki and the Mavericks haven’t owned the court for a majority of the first 192 minutes, they have been the better team at the opportune times.
One could say that favors the Heat going forward. Then again, is Nowitzki—wounded, coughing or otherwise indisposed—likely to keep shooting 42 percent?
“Throughout the series, we haven’t made a ton of shots,” Nowitzki said. “Shooting 39 percent (in Game 4) and getting a big win is unbelievable.”
So many aspects of this series border on the unbelievable. There’s no reason to think that the last game played in Dallas won’t live up to what we’ve already been fortunate to see.
There’s a good reason to think the last 60 seconds will belong to Nowitzki again, too.