Only one win separates the Dallas Mavericks from their first NBA Finals appearance since 2006, and they can get it Wednesday night when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. Dirk Nowitzki (40 points on 14-of-20 shooting) led a stirring, fifteen-point comeback during the fourth quarter of Game 4 to give the Mavs a 3-1 advantage in the series as they stunned the Thunder on their home floor.
Oklahoma City is a gifted young squad with good coaching--it did not advance this far in the postseason on accident--but has yet to face a test this daunting: elimination, on the road, this deep in the postseason. In contrast, the veteran Mavericks have been here before: Nowitzki and Jason Terry from that 2006 run; Jason Kidd as a New Jersey Net in the early 2000s; and Shawn Marion with the Phoenix Suns in the mid-2000s.
That aspect, how the teams respond to the pressure, is one well worth paying attention to. Perhaps the Mavs get complacent and ease up a bit, giving the Thunder an opportunity to climb back into the series. Maybe Oklahoma City wilts, and Dallas romps. There are numerous outcomes in between those extremes as well.
Game 5 between the Mavs and Thunder tips off at 8 PM Central on ESPN.