Game 5 of the 2011 NBA Finals looked unlike any of the previous four grinding, defense-first meetings between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. Instead, the Mavericks got back to the hot-shooting, ball-moving, clutch shot-hitting brand of basketball that got them to the Finals.
Even though the stage here is much better than the Western Conference semifinals and the opponent is much more committed to defense, the Mavericks showed the kind of overwhelming team offense that shoved the Los Angeles Lakers into the offseason. That series announced their arrival as serious championship contenders; Game 5 put them on the doorstep of achieving that goal, one win away from the first title in franchise history.
Thursday morning, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said his team couldn’t wait for the opportunity to seize control of the series. “We love pressure,” Carlisle said. “Bring it on.”
All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki brought it, as always, but so too did the Mavericks guards. Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Jason Kidd combined for 51 points on 29 shots, shooting a combined 10-for-15 from deep. The Heat shot well offensively – 52.9 percent as a team – but simply couldn’t keep pace.
No team could. Not with Nowitzki leading all scorers with 29 points. Not when the Mavericks put up 112 points after averaging 87.8 points in the first four games. Not on a night like this.
“They don’t happen very often,” Carlisle said. “Last time we had a shooting night like this was Game 4 against the Lakers.”
As in the Western Conference semifinals, the shooting barrage left Dallas’ opponent stunned.
“[Dallas] has more offensive firepower than any other team that we’ve played,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh. “They can’t get wide open shots. They can’t get lay-ups. They can’t have guys more than Dirk having a good game.”
When the Mavericks are clicking on all cylinders, they not only have more offensive firepower than any team the Heat has seen, they have more offensive firepower than the Heat. The contributions came from every direction and there was absolutely no hesitation in the fourth quarter.
Terry delivered his best performance of the series, finishing with 21 points, outscoring the Heat 8-3 by himself in the final 3:23 of the fourth quarter. A deep, deep, deep 3 with less than a minute to play and the shot clock running down served as the dagger.
“If there’s space, I’m going to let it fly,” Terry said. “The clock was winding down. It’s just like being out there on the playground back home in Seattle. Emulating your idols in the Finals situation, game on the line. Raise up, knock it down.”
Barea, who struggled to buy a basket earlier in the series, seemingly couldn’t miss.
“If I hit two shots or something like that, I think I’m feeling it,” Barea said with a broad smile. He hit four of his five 3-pointers, finishing with 17 points in just 25 minutes.
But Kidd was the unlikeliest offensive weapon of all, coming off of a Game 4 win in which he scored zero points and attempted just three shots. An aging point guard who has long been derided for his inability to shoot, Kidd finished with 13 points on six shots, including a huge 3 with 1:25 to play.
“For me, at 38, I’ve always felt that I had to improve my shooting if I want to be on the floor and help my teammates,” Kidd said.
“When you come into this league, you feel that you can win a championship,” said Kidd, who is chasing his first NBA title in a 16-year Hall of Fame career. “You just don’t understand when you’re young the competition and the level that you have to play with and play as a team.”
One thing that Kidd -- and those Mavericks who saw the 2006 Finals slip away -- know all too well is that a series isn’t won until the fourth win is secure. With that in mind, the postgame from the Mavericks -- on the doorstep of knocking off the heavily-favored Heat -- was complete caution. No trash talk. No jubilation.
“The series is not over,” Nowitzki said. “There’s really nothing to celebrate. We’re going in there Sunday swinging, like we did today, from the jump.”
“We’re trying to execute our game plan and see if we have the most points come Sunday,” Kidd said. “We’re not looking to knock no one out.”
Maybe not. But Thursday night’s perimter barrage left the Heat teetering on the precipice of a lost season.