So often a Game 5 is the defining game in the Finals, which contains the make-or-break moment where the game – and the entire series – could have gone either way. We may look back on this Game 5 in the exact same way. The Mavs were the better team all day, and enjoyed a 5-point cushion with six minutes left in the fourth. Dirk was being Dirk, Kidd and Terry were shooting the lights out, and even Puerto Rican Guy came to the party. The Heat, with their penchant for choking away games of late, didn’t seem like much of a threat as the last quarter winded down. Except that this Finals series has been anything but predictable, and you just had the sense that another turn was coming…
It did, in the form of a mini Heat run thanks to some brilliant unselfish play by Lebron and Wade, some smart veteran positioning by Haslem, and another eff-you three by Wade. When the Mr 2006 Finals MVP hit that shot with 4:30 remaining, I thought the Heat were about to march home. I thought, “this is that moment”, that Game 5 moment, where the course is set for the remainder of the series.
But then Kidd and Terry grew testicles the size of planetoids and hit what was, respectively, the biggest shots of their careers thus far. At the other end Lebron continued his curious lack of late-game composure, and Wade looked like a man trying to do too much. The Heat went away from what got them back in the game, in in the space of a couple of minutes it was over.
I’m going to reserve my judgement on Lebron James for now. The series is not over and he may still have the last laugh. But what happens in the next couple of games may define his legacy. Other people said the same stuff last year after Game 5 (I did not), but that was premature. I don’t like overdoing the Jordan analogies, but last year was Lebron’s 1990 Conference Finals against Detroit. The Bulls were a great team, but they just didn’t have the firepower and the savvy to get over the line against that well-drilled Pistons unit. MJ lost a Game 7 and the doubters and haters come out for the parade. Same thing with Lebron last year.
We all know what happened to MJ after that. The Bulls won the ’91 Finals against LA and Jordan never looked back. Everyone forgot what happened against the Pistons the year before. And that is where Lebron James is right now. He’s in his ’91 Finals. He has a team good enough to win it all, and if he “shrinks” or fails to deliver this time round, the reaction will not be very forgiving. He’s made his mistakes, he’s had his shortcomings, and his team is good enough to win now. Blowing the 2011 Finals is infinitely worse for Lebron than what happened in the Conference Finals last year. But as I said, I will reserve judgement. A lot more Lebron discussion to come…
3 votes – Jason Terry. Dirk lead by example again and was their rock, but Terry gave them a huge spark off the bench and hit the game-sealing shots. 21 points on 8-12 shooting and 3-5 from downtown, to go with 6 assists and 4 rebounds, all in 30 minutes. And of course, as always with the Jet, his on-court demeanor helped give the Mavs the swagger they needed to close this thing. Bill Simmons called Terry’s three ”the biggest irrational confidence shot of all-time”. In other words, classic Jason Terry.
2 votes – Dirk Nowitzki. Looked to have shaken the flu that slowed him in Game 4, Dirk was back to his efficient self and added an exclamation mark with his driving dunk in the final minutes. Is still riding one of the greatest post-season runs in NBA history. Add to that a historically good close-out game on the road? You couldn’t script a much better end than that.
1 vote – Puerto Rican Guy. Finally played the game I’ve been waiting him to play all Finals. 17 points, 4-5 shooting from downtown, and forced a lot of defensive adjustments from Coach Spoelstra. If he has one more game like this, the Mavs are your 2011 NBA Champions.
For the record, my money is still on Miami. I’m not just saying that to be stubborn. I think they’ll take Game 6 (with a bit of help from the refs) and in Game 7 the home team always has a massive advantage. I think Miami have learnt a lot from the last two games and should be able to close it out. But I’m still placing a lot of reliance on Wade and Lebron here. The Mavs look like the better team, plain and simple. They won Game 5 with huge contributions from 5+ players. They look like a championship team. But… the Celtics looked exactly the same at this point last year, after winning Game 5 at home.
So you never know.