Mavericks Return To Finals!

Another late run by Dallas dooms Oklahoma City.

James LeBeauby James LeBeau

Oh, what could have been.

Those are the thoughts that the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to have to live with this summer after losing the Western Conference Finals thanks mainly to two epic collapses late in the fourth quarter. The latest, and last loss, came Wednesday night where the youth of the Thunder again gave way to the experience and will of Dallas, who steadily outlasted Oklahoma City's runs and calmly took over the game when it mattered, the end.

"We just kept our poise at all times," said Shawn Marion, who scored 15 of his 26 points in the final quarter. "It seemed like we never got rattled and just chipped away and chipped away."

With the win, the Dallas Mavericks return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2006, where they lost to Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat. The irony of the situation is that if the Heat can finish off the Celtics, and they likely will, they will meet the Mavericks for a Finals rematch not many expected. But don't let a possible rehash of these two teams in the Finals fool you, this is not the 2006 Heat…

and this is not the 2006 Mavericks.

"If you look, to a man, this team is better than it was in 2006," Jason Terry said. "To a man. The whole makeup. The chemistry, just all together. … Just look at the point guard on that team. It was me. Look at the point guard on this team: Jason Kidd. Big difference.

"All the stars have to line up for you to win it all. They're in place right now. It's just on us now to go out and finish the job."

The Mavericks have punched their ticket to the promised land and can just sit back and wait for their next opponent but for one team to advance, another has to lose and while the Thunder didn't have what it took down the stretch to get the needed wins, you still have to give them credit for the growth they have shown this season.

Led by a pair of 22 year old's, the Thunder defied their inexperience and age, playing championship level basketball for most of the postseason. Their run has given notice to the West that they are going to be a contender for years to come and their only weakness, inexperience, is already fast on it's way to being corrected.

For now though, they get to go home and watch the Dallas Mavericks play a Finals series that they could have been in and wonder, what if. And they should watch it, every second of every game, just to ingrain into themselves how it feels to fall just short of reaching their goals because nothing is greater motivator than the pain of losing.

Just ask Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.

Photo Courtesy of:  ASSOCIATED PRESS