DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki thrust both arms in the air, a sea of blue screaming around him and the Dallas Mavericks finally ahead in these ultra-close NBA finals.
Now it really is "now or never" for LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
Nowitzki scored 29 points, driving for the go-ahead dunk with 2:45 remaining, and the Mavericks beat the Heat 112-103 on Thursday night to take a 3-2 lead.
Five years after going up 2-0 on the Heat, the Mavs finally got that elusive third victory, and can wrap up their first championship in Game 6 at Miami on Sunday night.
"We didn't want to go to Miami and give them basically two shots to close us out. So we kept plugging there in the fourth. So definitely a big win for us," Nowitzki said. "And now we have to go down there and basically approach Sunday's game as Game 7."
James, who called this game "now or never," responded from his worst playoff performance with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and Dwyane Wade battled through a sore left hip after a first-quarter collision to finish with 23 points.
"I could have made a couple of more plays for my team," James said. "But at the end of the day, all it's about is a win or a loss. Triple-double means absolutely nothing in a loss. So we will be better in Game 6 on Sunday."
Chris Bosh had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Heat, who get the final two games at home with history against them as they try to win a title in their first season together: In the 26 previous finals that were tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner won 19 of them.
"We fought hard all season for home-court advantage. We're down 3-2," Bosh said. "We protect home court, we win the series, so we just have to keep that in mind."
The Mavs shot 60 percent through three quarters, briefly gave up the lead in the fourth, then outscored Miami 17-4 in the final 4:23, controlling the final few minutes just as they had in thrilling comebacks in Games 2 and 4.
Dallas shot 56.5 percent from the field, including 13 of 19 (68 percent) from 3-point range.
"We made more shots," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "We did a lot of good things defensively, which led to good offense. ... You never know when the games are going to go that way. The thing we've got to do is we've got to make sure our defense is consistent."
Terry scored 21 points and J.J. Barea had 17 for the Mavs, who insisted at some point their shots would start falling even against the Heat's stingy defense. Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler both finished with 13 points.
"We are getting the same looks we knew we would get," Terry said. "After Games 1 and 2, you watch it on film, you see it and then you realize you're going to have the opportunities. I said to myself, I said to my teammates, we're not going to continue to miss those open shots that we're getting."
Their offense was simply too good, despite a good bounceback for James.
James scored eight points, going just 3 of 11 in Game 4, the first time in 90 postseason games he didn't hit double figures. Trying to pump himself during a rough first finals in Miami in which he's been accused of everything from "shrinking" to "checking out" in the fourth quarters, he wrote "Now or Never!!" on his Twitter page early Thursday morning, later calling this the biggest game of his career.
But they feel the same urgency in Dallas, where the slogan "The Time is Now" is printed on those blue T-shirts that surround the court, and where the Mavs are loaded with 30-somethings — late 30s, in Kidd's case — who could be on their last shot at an NBA title.