May 26, 2011 in Sports

Mavericks clinch Western Conference, move to finals

Jaime Aron Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Dirk Nowitzki reacts after his 3-pointer puts the Mavericks ahead of Oklahoma City late in Wednesday’s Game 5.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki stood on the court wearing a baseball hat celebrating the Dallas Mavericks’ return to the NBA finals. As his team received a silver trophy for winning the Western Conference, he looked as if he’d just been named the player of the week in November.

Nowitzki’s indifferent attitude during the pandemonium around him shows just how locked in he is right now.

“We’ve got one of those trophies already,” Nowitzki said. “This is nice for a day, but we set our goals in October to win it all. We haven’t done it yet.”

The superstar who has dominated this postseason added another highlight Wednesday night, hitting a straightaway 3-pointer with 1:14 left that put the Mavericks ahead for good on their way to a 100-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder that ended the Western Conference finals in five games.

After clawing back from down 15 with 5:06 left in Game 4, the Mavericks were down by six with 4:37 left when they rallied again, outscoring the Thunder 14-4 the rest of the way. The biggest on-court celebration in franchise history followed, with the greatest player in franchise history hardly soaking it in.

“It feels good to finally go back,” Nowitzki said. “This time, hopefully we can finish the job.”

The Mavericks have long been among the NBA’s elite, winning 50 games for 11 consecutive seasons. However, it’s been a bit hollow because they don’t have a title to show for it. They reached the finals in 2006, went up 2-0 and had a big, late lead in Game 3, only to lose to the Miami Heat in six games. They’d won only a single playoff series since until this spring.

Dallas is 12-3 this postseason, and has won 10 of its last 11. Nowitzki has been at his best throughout, especially this series. He scored nine of his 26 points in the fourth quarter; for the series, he averaged 32.2 points, 11.8 in the fourth quarters.

But it wasn’t just him. A roster filled with guys seeking their first title made big plays down the stretch, from Jason Kidd to Shawn Marion to Jason Terry.

“We just kept our poise at all times,” said Marion, who scored 15 of his 26 points in the final quarter. “It seemed like we never got rattled and just chipped away and chipped away.”

When the Mavs last made the finals, they advanced with a win in Phoenix. This time, they got to share the moment with their fans. Franchise founder Don Carter was right in the middle of it all, trading his signature white cowboy hat – the one that used to be featured in the team’s logo – for a black baseball cap that read “The Finals 2011” with a Mavs logo and the championship trophy.

“All I can tell everybody is, we ain’t done yet,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said during the on-court trophy presentation ceremony.

Funny thing is, they could face Miami again. Fans seem to hope so, chanting “Beat the Heat!” so loudly after Cuban spoke that they drowned out coach Rick Carlisle’s on-court interview.

LeBron James and Miami lead the Chicago Bulls 3-1 in the Eastern Conference finals. If the Heat win tonight, the finals will begin Tuesday in Miami. If the Bulls win tonight, the finals will begin next Thursday in the East winner’s city.

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