The Dallas Mavericks punched their ticket to the NBA finals on Wednesday, staging another stirring late rally to beat Oklahoma City 100-96 and win the Western Conference crown.
With the victory, the Mavericks completed a four-games-to-one win in the best-of-seven conference finals series.
They will play either Miami or Chicago for the NBA crown, with the Heat leading the Bulls 3-1 in the Eastern Conference finals. Game 5 of that series was to be played last night.
The Mavericks’ German star Dirk Nowitzki scored a go-ahead three-pointer with 1:14 remaining and Shawn Marion followed with a three-point play off a steal as the Mavericks erased a six-point deficit with less than five minutes remaining.
Dallas closed the game on a 14-4 scoring run.
The comeback echoed their Game 4 rally, when they clawed back from 15 points down with five minutes left and won in overtime.
The Mavericks have not won an NBA title — nor have any of their current players.
Nowitzki and Jason Terry were part of the only Dallas team to reach the championship series, in 2006.
They led Miami 2-0 in that series, but ended up losing to the Heat in six games.
“All I can tell everybody is, we ain’t done yet,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told the ecstatic crowd as his team received with the Western Conference championship trophy.
Nowitzki, who suffered through the string of early playoff exits that followed that missed opportunity in 2006, wasn’t yet celebrating too hard.
“We’ve got one of those trophies already,” Nowitzki said of the Western Conference hardware. “This is nice for a day, but we set our goals in October to win it all. We haven’t done it yet.”
“It feels good to finally go back” to the finals, added Nowitzki, who averaged 32.2 points per game in the series against the Thunder, 11.8 points in the fourth quarters. “This time, hopefully we can finish the job.”
Nowitzki and Marion scored 26 points apiece and both -delivered when it counted in the fourth quarter.
Nowitzki scored nine in the final period, and Marion had 15. J.J. Barea added 14 off the bench, Terry scored 12 and Jason Kidd had 10 assists and seven rebounds.
The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook scored 31 points as he battled to send the series back to Oklahoma City, but he also had two key late turnovers.
Kevin Durant and James Harden finished with 23 points apiece for Oklahoma City, who lost three games in a row for just the second time all season.
While the young Thunder team marked themselves as future contenders, that was surely little consolation after the two close finishes.
“I just know that we played together as a team throughout the whole series, and just couldn’t come up with the wins,” Westbrook said. “We’re not just worried about Dallas. We’ve got a whole next year to come up to worry about other teams. We’re going to come in and just get better [next year].”
The Mavericks experience stood them in good stead and they will have a chance to rest their older legs, as well. The earliest the NBA finals can start is Tuesday.
Nowitzki wouldn’t be drawn on whether he’d like another shot at the Heat, in particular, in the finals.
Regardless of who advances from the East, he said, the Mavericks will be ready.
“Whatever happens, happens,” he said. “That’s not in our hands. We’re probably going to know here pretty soon who it is, and we’re going to prepare like we have in our first three series.”