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The Comeback Kings

Too bad that the NBA seems to have shifted their marketing efforts towards talking basketballs, as a “Where Late Game Heroics Happen” ad campaign seems like it would practically write itself.

First shot: Dirk Nowitzki hits another impossibly clutch jumper in the final minutes of Mavs-Thunder Game 4 while the jovial Dallas bench offers a stark contrast to the stunned-silent Oklahoma City crowd. Cuts to a rapid trio of three-point daggers from Miami Heat superstars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to turn what looked like a Game 5 win for the Chicago Bulls into a series clincher. Shift back out West, with a Shawn Marion transition dunk to cap off an eight-point comeback and send a shell-shocked Thunder squad packing.

The NBA: Where Late Game Heroics Happen.

It’s no coincidence that the two featured clubs in this imaginary commercial spot happen to be the two teams set to do battle in the NBA Finals. Dallas and Miami appear to have little in common, but what unites them – and what has brought them to this point in their playoff journey – is a hunger bordering on desperation to get their hands on the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.

Just look at the two teams involved.

Dallas is chockfull of veteran players who have yet to ascend to basketball’s holy grail. Jason Kidd’s 17 NBA seasons have all been title-less, as have Nowitzki and Peja Stojakovic’s 13. Remarkably, on a roster that includes 10 players with nine or more years of NBA experience, not a single Maverick has a title to his name.

The Mavs’ Game 4 win over Oklahoma City – a victory that saw them trail by 15 points within the final five minutes of the fourth quarter before a 28-6 run the rest of the way helped them to an OT triumph – was the most impressive feat of what has been an electric postseason. Nowitzki managed to top his 48 points / 12-15 FG/ 24-24 FT stat line from Game 1 by scoring 14 points from the 43:26 mark on (most of which came with his body contorted and a hand in his face) and Kidd bested his supposedly superior counterpart Russell Westbrook by running a sound offense and cutting down on mistakes.

Miami, meanwhile, has title winners in Wade and Eddie House and a core in its relative infancy compared to the aging Mavs, but possibly also has more to prove. They do, after all, still carry some stigma from “The Decision” and can bank on having more casual fans rooting against them than for them come Tuesday night. Perhaps even moreso than any Maverick player, James embodies that need to win as a much-scrutinized superstar with a Golem-like obsession with the NBA title.

Another team may have settled into a defeated, less urgent pace as a Ronnie Brewer three-pointer gave Chicago a 12-point lead with under four minutes left in Game 5. After all, a Bulls’ win would only have moved things back to Miami with the Heat holding a 3-2 series lead. But for James and Wade, who know how much they have to prove, no time is a good one to take the foot off the gas pedal in these playoffs. Wade had eight points down the stretch and James out-MVP’ed league MVP Derrick Rose with eight of his own (including two of the duo’s aforementioned rapid-fire three’s) to knock the air out of the United Center and send Chicago home.

Let’s not forget that these weren’t exactly scrubs they were up against. Dallas had to contend with Kevin Durant, whom they held in check long enough to secure the Game 4 win, and Westbrook, whom Kidd handled far better than most NBA observers expected. Out east, Rose didn’t quite rise to the occasion on par with his Heat counterparts (he said as much himself in the post-series press conference), but also could have used more help from teammates – namely Carlos Boozer.

Fact is, the Thunder and Bulls have every reason to be proud of their accomplishments and eagerly anticipate bright futures rather than mull the ‘what ifs’ of the gut-punch losses.

But the Mavs and Heat just wanted it more – and that’s why they now find themselves on basketball’s biggest stage.

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