by Adam Sweeney / @AdamSweeney

Before this season, the average NBA fan would have probably laughed if there was a comparison between Dirk Nowitzki and Larry Bird. After the Game 5 win, in which Nowitzki continued one of the most breathtaking post-season runs in NBA history, it appears Dirk may end up the last one laughing.

In a game that Dallas honestly had no business winning, Dirk put the dagger in the Thunder‘s collective heart with 1:14 left to go in the game by nailing a three. The Mavericks are now Western Conference champions and have a chance to exorcise their demons with an NBA Finals victory.

Shawn Marion spoke with us after the game about Dirk’s unbelievable game clinching play, one which was triggered by Marion’s deflection off a previous Nowitzki miss.

As I’ve stated before in a recent article, Russell Westbrook is the most maddening player in the NBA. One minute he is breathtaking, showing his potential greatness to the tune of a team high 31 points. Those points ended up being all for show, however, as he committed costly mental errors that contributed to the end of the series.

Still, the Thunder have positives they can take from this series loss. Westbrook, as we know, is a proud player and shares an equal amount of pride in his team. He said as much after the game.

No player on the Thunder was more impressive in this series than James Harden. Aside from the fact that it looks like he stole his look from a member of Black Eyed Peas, he was reason the Thunder kept rolling. He’s a star in the making. At worst, he is a future Sixth Man of the Year award winner. As they look to the future, Harden and OKC alpha dog Kevin Durant told us what they could do to improve both individually and as a team.

In the end, the Western Conference Finals will be remembered as the Dirk Nowitzki show. Always gracious, Dirk first turned the focus to how well the Thunder played and then broke down how different this feeling is versus the last time he made it to the NBA Finals in 2006, which ended in a crushing six-game loss to the Miami Heat, their likely 2011 NBA Finals opponent.

It’s clear this is a tougher Mavericks team in every way. JJ Barea said as much to us, highlighting the differences between this team and the Mavs of the past.

History, as they say, repeats itself. But don’t tell that to Dirk Nowitzki or the Dallas Mavericks. While the names may be the same on the jerseys from 2006 come Finals time, this is a whole new era in Mavs basketball, who are no longer the butt of the joke. They’re calling the shots and, as the Thunder learned figuratively and literally, delivering the punchline.