LeBron James

LeBron James Credit: Getty Images

The most scintillating NBA Finals in years continues Thursday in Dallas, with the winner of Game 5 earning a shot at clinching in Miami on Sunday.

With both the Heat and Mavericks unleashing alternate stretches of lockdown defense and torrid scoring, the series’ last three games were not decided until the final possession. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last Finals with three straight thrillers decided by three points or less was in 1948. With the series on a razor’s edge, monitor these three themes during tonight’s tiebreaker.

LeBron’s identity crisis

The LeBron James that Miami needs to regain control of this series is somewhere between a ball-stopping egotist and a meek facilitator. And he knows it. “I think it’s that time that I try to get myself going individually,” James told reporters a day after his strangely passive performance in Game 4 produced a career-playoff-low eight points. James (17.3 ppg in the series) has not only ceded primary scoring duties to Dwyane Wade (29.8 ppg), he’s also become a perimeter passer who is reluctant to use his ability to penetrate defenses and score or create shots for others. “You definitely relish the next moment,” James said.
“I’m looking forward to it.”

Size matters

James’ struggles, including just nine points in the fourth quarter so far in these Finals, have much to do with the intimidating presence of shot-contesting center Tyson Chandler. On Sunday, the 7-foot-1 Dallas center patrolled the paint for a team-high 42 minutes while scoring 13 points and clearing 16 rebounds (nine of them on the offensive glass). While no Heat regular is taller than the 6-foot-11 Chris Bosh, the Mavericks counter with Chandler and 7-footers Dirk Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood, the reserve center. Dallas’ length has successfully minimized Miami’s second-chance opportunities — and creating several for Dallas on the other end.

Unstoppable Dirk

Quite simply, Nowitzki’s 2011 postseason is one for the ages: 28 ppg on 49.6 percent field-goal shooting and 163-174 free-throw shooting (93.7 percent). And he’s shown no sign of slowing down during the Finals. Of Nowitzki’s 106 points in this series, 44 have come in the fourth quarter, when the 32-year-old German consistently puts his head down and drives to the rim. That aggressive play has produced both of the Mavericks’ game winners to cap Dallas comebacks. But Nowitzki knows what has fueled those rallies. “Our comebacks have been really ignited by good defense,” he said.

NBA Finals

Dallas vs. Miami (series tied 2-2)
Game 1: Heat 92, Mavericks 84
Game 2: Mavericks 95, Heat 93
Game 3: Heat 88, Mavericks 86
Game 4: Mavericks 86, Heat 83
Game 5: at Dallas, Thurs., 9 p.m. ABC
Game 6: at Miami, Sun., 8 p.m. ABC
Game 7*: at Miami, Tues., June 14, 9 p.m.
*If necessary

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