As I said yesterday, last night was not a must-win for the Heat. It was a must-win for the Mavs.
NOW it is a must-win for the Heat. Twice.
There are only three scenarios left in these instant-classic NBA Finals:
(1) The Mavs win Game 6. Despite close finishes, it would be a decisive knockout of the Heat, on LeBron's own home floor, no less.
(2) The Heat win Game 6, then the Mavs win Game 7. I think, given a preference, this is what almost every fan would like to see. By far the most powerful ending.
(3) The Heat win Game 6, then the Heat win Game 7. Games 4 and 5 in Dallas are forgotten. LeBron's mid-series problems are forgotten. The new narrative: Heat Champs ('nuff said).
That was a wonderful game last night, particularly if you are rooting against the Heat -- there was a national fan moment when Dirk had that baseline dunk, topped when Jason Kidd hit that 3, topped again when Jason Terry hit that absolute dagger 3 that had everyone going "Oh my god: This game is over. The Mavs are going to be up 3-2." (But it was more like OH MY GOD!)
If the Heat lose the series, last night's game -- specifically -- will be lost to history. So will Miami's other three individual losses. For that matter, so will the Mavericks' four wins.
What we will remember is that Miami lost in the Finals, that LeBron didn't play spectacularly. (OK, yes: That Dallas' vets found the craftiness and clutchiness to win.)
I keep reading that this is the Year of LeBron. What is being lost is that it's not the Year of LeBron -- it's the Decade of LeBron.
The Mavs will enjoy an extended summer of being champs -- perhaps even all of next season. But as quickly as the morning after the Finals end -- if they end with the Heat on the wrong end -- the storyline will be: Can LeBron and the Heat win that title in 2012? And there will be a year of build-up to next year's Finals.
I don't mean to be a downer here. But the Heat winning the title this year was always going to be a bonus -- they are built to contend annually for the next half-decade or so, and so you have to be willing to accept the inevitability of LeBron and the Heat winning a title. If not this year, then next. Or the next. Or the next. Or the next. (That's a lot of "nexts.")
What this year -- what last night -- represents is holding back that inevitability for one more day, one more game (or, in this case, two more games). That presumptions can be (and often are) wrong. That, like the Pistons crushing the heavily favored Lakers in 2004, expectations can be flipped.
Temporarily, the foregone conclusion is avoided. Last night, fans on the "Anyone But the Heat" side got our "must-win." The Heat may yet flip the script, but it sure looks less certain than ever. That is more than enough to celebrate this morning.