Jason Terry stared down LeBron James and an agonizing memory that has been as inescapable as a dead, rotting rodent in the attic.
With one devastating three-pointer to clinch a 112-103 Game 5 victory, he may have expunged that stench for good. The Dallas Mavericks now get two chances in Miami to seize the franchise's first championship. Five years ago, a horde of mistakes, missed shots and questionable calls that didn't pass the smell test caused the Mavs' undoing after a 2-0 series lead.
Now, it smells like redemption.
No one should underestimate the Heat's ability to win two straight at home, but this is what the West's best wanted. Even if Terry and Dirk Nowitzki are the only holdovers from that 2006 runner-up, their teammates know what this opportunity means.
What's missing now? How about LeBron James' fourth quarter offense? His picture should soon appear on milk cartons everywhere. Have you seen the two-time MVP? In three straight Finals contests, his coach, Erik Spoelstra, hasn't.
His triple double (17 PT, 10 REB, 10 AST) was overshadowed by his two—yes two—crunch-time points.
Thursday, however, was not the biggest night of James' life, or the defining moment in his professional tenure. It will take a crippling, career-threatening injury to keep a player this talented, this versatile from many more turns on this stage. He'll get here again, as will Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Thursday was, without question, the biggest night in Dallas franchise history. Catastrophe strikes, and luck, likewise, can alter a bleak outlook. The forecast, though, suggests the Mavericks hosted their last finals date for a while.
Shawn Marion has turned back the clock, but how long before Father Time turns on his 33-year-old body? He was just 4-of-11 from the field, but a pair of tough post-up buckets powered the Mavs' roaring start.
They led 13-6 with 7:21 remaining.
Another pessimistic twist in labor negotiations makes it even likelier Jason Kidd will play his final NBA game in the next five days. No one else on the roster sees the floor or developing plays the way he does. He proved the "J" belongs in his first name with three triples, including a gargantuan hit to spot Dallas a five-point lead it would not relinquish. He added three steals.
Rick Carlisle has banished Peja Stojakovic to the end of the bench, but the 34-year-old sharpshooter contributed more to this group's success than anyone could have imagined. GM Donnie Nelson will want to replace a one-dimensional gag artist with a more reliable piece.
Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal and Caron Butler become unrestricted free agents July 1. You know how stupid hoops execs can get when role players from a conference champion flood the market. Nelson will need to fend off a proletariat of competitors for Chandler and Butler's services. He better not rely on the hometown discount, either.
Forget catching lightning, thunder or rain. This team caught Zeus and Perkunas in a bottle. In mid-April, many pundits predicted the Portland Trail Blazers would send the Mavs home in the first round. Isn't this a last magical ride for an aging cast that has defied every doomsday prognostication?
Spoelstra's bunch lit up the gym to start the final period. Seven straight possessions ended in lay-ups or dunks. Wade returned after a sore left hip sent him to the locker room in the first half to bank in a beauty over Chandler's outstretched arms.
Udonis Haslem was a terror rolling to the basket and tallied eight points in the decisive quarter. Nowitzki needed a Garmin to find him. A Haslem uncontested dunk put Miami ahead 96-95 with five minutes left.
It was "uh-oh" time inside the American Airlines Center.
Everything the Mavs had accomplished with a blistering shooting exhibition threatened to fly back at them like projectile condiments or an airborne baked dessert. No one likes a pie in the face, and the Heat had every chance Thursday night to lob a warm rhubarb or a tart lemon meringue.
Dallas averted the heavy cream, the pastry shell, the gooey filling, and all that ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard. The Mavs connected at a better than 60 percent rate for most of the night, and yet, they could not shake an opponent with a man down. Wade still logged 35 minutes and produced 23 points, but he missed a chunk of the second quarter.
Disaster beckoned. An unforgivable collapse loomed. Blow a lead after shooting 68 percent from downtown and this series would have ended in Game 6, quicker than Kim Kardashian finds new athlete boyfriends.
Instead, Terry, Nowitzki and Kidd responded to the challenge with a closing kick that knocked the Heat unconscious.
Bam. Whack. Thud.
The celebration must wait, though. Boston headed to L.A. up 3-2 the previous June, and Dallas knows how that match ended.
If Bosh and Wade continue to run wild, James drops a few more hits and the supporting cast builds on a second stigma-changing performance, Dallas may not boast enough weapons to launch a counterattack.
Mario Chalmers is not one to leave open. His strong, 15-point outing is one reason Spoelstra will not panic. If Miami takes Game 6, the pressure of a Finals Game 7 on the road might even swallow an opponent as unflinching as Dallas.
The Heat bench poured in 40 points, and that is a concern for Carlisle.
Still, the Mavs buried enough late looks to fend off a furious charge in a game that could have been played by the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors. The participants paid more homage to Don Nelson than Pat Riley.
If Spoelstra and Carlisle will not ever sell this affair as an example of suffocating defense, they will point to the marksmanship as evidence each side can score on the other when the pressure mounts.
Bang after bang, the squads traded gunshots. Haslem dunked. Wade drained a three-pointer. Terry knotted the score at 100 with a trey. Nowitzki drove baseline for a dunk.
Dallas-Fort Worth area fans last saw a flurry of this magnitude when dreary, wicked winter weather threatened to ruin Arlington's turn as a Super Bowl host in February. If a snowstorm stalls cars and makes thoroughfares and freeways unsafe, a 3-2 series lead for Dallas should stall the tombstone talk.
Nowitzki scored his 29 points from all areas of the court, he did not miss a free throw, and the help he so desperately needed came when it mattered most. Barea darted through Miami's coverage and rifled in three after three en route to 17 points. Chandler played up to his size once more with 13 points and seven rebounds. Six Mavs reached double figures.
Terry offered his finest assistance of these playoffs: 21 points and a license to call himself "Jet" again.
Stevenson and Terry should shut their yappers between games, but Thursday made the latter's provocation to James—stop me seven times—seem less dopey. Terry dispensed the drug the Mavs needed most. Nothing cures a potential, sickening collapse like a slew of made baskets.
He stared down James, with the shot clock approaching zero, and summoned all his marbles to settle Game 5. No more mindless trash talking from a practice court. The ball dropping through the net said plenty.
Is Dallas ready to do to Miami's crowd what was done to its fanbase five year ago? Sweet revenge is now one win away.
Terry will want that smell to linger.