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NBA Playoffs 2011: Mavericks Vs. Thunder, Game 5

The Dallas Mavericks are one win away from returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2006 when they lost to the Miami Heat in six games. Dallas returns home on Wednesday night to play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder, holding a commanding three games to one series lead in the 2011 Western Conference Finals.

The Thunder nearly had the series square at two games a piece - but a colossal choke in Game 4 left Oklahoma City staring at elimination. Oklahoma City was up by 15 points late in the fourth quarter - and I mean really late - with about five minutes left to play. Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks forced overtime and eventually took Game 4.

Nowitzki was once again excellent - something that should come as a surprise to nobody. In the Game 4 victory, Nowitzki scored 40 points on just 20 shots, including going 14/15 from the free throw line. Dirk is simply playing historic basketball, scoring 40 points for the second time in the Western Conference Finals, and more amazingly, the second time in just four games. His teammates, according to Tim MacMahon, note how frustrating it must be for Oklahoma City's defenders:

"When you play excellent defense and somebody shoots a shot that you don't think is a great shot and it consistently goes in, what do you do?" Haywood said. "You're taking away his first move and his second move. He's going to his third or fourth move on you. You're right there and he's fading away and it's going in every time. That's gotta be frustrating." 

Added Chandler: "It's frustrating because you're doing everything you can to stop him and the guy is still scoring at will. There's just nothing you can do."

Jason Terry provided a boost off the bench yet again in Game 4 as well, scoring 20 points while grabbing four rebounds and five steals as well. 

Despite Dirk's heroics and Dallas' comeback, there's still improvements to be made - and that have to be made in Game 5 if the Mavericks want to close out the Thunder and head back to the NBA Finals. Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle acknowledged that the Mavericks must improve their rebounding. Per Calvin Watkins:

"There's some areas we got to get better at," Carlisle said Tuesday afternoon. "We're getting outrebounded by eight a game in the series on average and that's a big concern." 

For the series, the Mavs are averaging 34.1 rebounds per game and the Thunder have grabbed an average of 42.2.     

Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. CDT. Televised coverage can be found on ESPN as the Mavericks look to end the Western Conference Finals in five games.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.