The NBA Finals returns to Miami on Sunday night with the Dallas Mavericks owning a 3-2 series lead, and within one win from taking home the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Regardless of the outcome, these Finals will go down as one of the most exciting in recent memory. Three of the five games have been decided by three points or less, there's been talk on both sides, and drama surrounding LeBron James's fourth-quarter disappearing acts.
Most importantly, there are two future Hall-of-Famers who have elevated their play to incredible heights and are engaged in one of the best one-on-one showdowns the Finals has ever seen: Dwyane Wade dueling with Dirk Nowitzki.
They've battled illness and injury, overcome the shortcomings of under-performing teammates, and played some of the best basketball of their careers when it matters most.
Until his hip injury in Game Five, Wade looked unstoppable. He has been getting to the rim at will and shredding Dallas's otherwise stout defense with his speed and uncanny ability to change directions going full speed. With James looking like a passive bystander and Chris Bosh's unpredictable play, Wade has stepped up as the real leader of the Heat and the only dependable member of Miami's vaunted Big Three.
Through five games, Wade is averaging close to 30 points per game in the Finals and despite already having a ring, looks like the hungriest member of the Heat. He has taken his game to a whole new level in the Finals and has carried the Heat through the ups-and-downs of his All-Star teammates.
Dirk Nowitzki has delivered two game-winning shots in Games Two and Four, and narrowly missed sending Game Three into overtime. For all the criticism he has taken throughout his career for being too soft to win a championship, Nowitzki is putting on one of the all-time great Finals performances.
In Game Two, Nowitzki scored Dallas's last nine points to trigger a comeback from 15 points behind, and won the game on a left-handed layup with three seconds left. He was using the same left hand that had a splint on it to protect the tendon in the middle finger he tore at the end of Game One.
In Game Four, Nowitzki was so sick he could barely speak. After struggling for three quarters, he found his touch in the fourth, delivering 10 of his 21 points in the final act, including the game-winning layup against Udonis Haslem with less than 15 seconds to play.
Nowitzki has always been the focal point of the Mavericks. As the greatest player in franchise history, there has never been any question as to who takes the final shot. Nowitzki has performed even beyond the high standard set throughout his career and this incredible Finals performance firmly cements his legacy as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
On the other side, Wade must have thought that having two All-Stars join his team would take some of the pressure off him. It turns out that in the Finals the Heat have been almost entirely Wade's team.
Unless one or both of his superstar teammates can over-achieve on this stage, the Heat's chances of a title rest squarely on the shouders of their captain.
Whichever team wins the title won't detract from the inspired performances of two great players.