DALLAS — Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks finally have the lead in these ultra-close NBA finals, and now it really is “now or never” for LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
Nowitzki scored 29 points, driving for the go-ahead dunk with 2:45 remaining, and the Mavericks beat the Heat 112-103 on Thursday night to take a 3-2 lead in the NBA finals.
Five years after going up 2-0 on the Heat, the Mavs finally got that elusive third victory, and can wrap up their first championship in Game 6 at Miami on Sunday night.
James, who called this game “now or never,” responded from his worst playoff performance with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and Dwyane Wade battled through a sore left hip after a first-quarter collision to finish with 23 points.
They get the final two games at home, but history is against them as they try to win a title in their first season together: In the 26 previous times finals that were tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner won 19 of them.
The Mavs shot 60 percent through three quarters, briefly gave up the lead in the fourth, then controlled the final few minutes, just as they had in thrilling comebacks in Games 2 and 4.
This time, they got to play from ahead thanks to some sizzling shooting: 56.5 percent from the field, including 13 of 19 (68 percent) from 3-point range.
Jason Terry scored 21 points, J.J. Barea 17 and Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd 13 each for the Mavs, with Nowitzki briefly throwing both arms in the air as he walked off the court surrounded by a sea of blue fans who hope he’ll bring home a championship trophy if they can pull out another victory in Miami.
James scored eight points, going just 3 of 11 in Game 4, the first time in 90 postseason games he didn’t hit double figures. It’s been a rough first finals in Miami for James, who has been accused of everything from “shrinking” to “checking out” in the fourth quarters, when he had just nine points through the first four games.
Trying to pump himself up, James wrote “Now or Never!!” on his Twitter page early Thursday morning, later calling this the biggest game of his career.
But they feel the same urgency in Dallas, where the slogan “The Time is Now” is printed on those blue T-shirts that surround the court, and where the Mavs are loaded with 30-somethings — late 30s, in Kidd’s case — who could be on their last shot at an NBA title.