Round 4, Game 2 (Miami v Dallas)

Final score: Dallas 95, Maimi 93

Here are a couple quotes from yours truly after game 1:

“Going forward, Dallas has a lot of work to do.  Like I said before, a tie isn’t good enough for the Mavs, because they just have such an extremely large talent deficit.  Dallas has to continue to play good defense and hope Miami starts missing some 3′s.”

“For Miami, all they have to do is play more of the same.  In any other universe or variation thereof, I would throw out a warning that Miami is leaning too heavily on its talent and athleticism to put the games away.  Problem is that this strategy is absolutely working.  Down the stretch, Miami’s offense is “get the ball to Wade or James and let him go 1-on-1.”  And where I thought it was such a bad idea for Rose and Durant in the previous series, it has completely worked for these Heat!”

At the beginning of the series I seriously doubted that the Mavs had any chance.  Miami had 3 of the top 4 players and seemed to have gotten their act together.  But boy was I wrong.  Even after game 1, which was closer than I had expected, I missed the signs.  I came away thinking that Dallas just didn’t have the athleticism to compete with Miami instead of seeing what now seems obvious – at least some of the time, Miami has been getting lucky.

The fact is that the Miami that we saw through numerous abysmal stretches in the regular season is still around, brooding somewhere beneath that veneer of clutchness.  The question now becomes “how good are they really?”  How much of three rounds of critical shot-making, brilliant defense and terrific closing was real and how much was just smoke and mirrors.  Well, two games into the NBA finals we have a (highly unreliable) empirical answer of 50-50.  In game 1, the Heat’s overwhelming athleticism and stamina just wore Dallas into the ground.  In game 2, the same Heat with their same athleticism and stamina were destroyed in the 4th quarter as they blew a 15 point lead in 6 minutes.

So while the world is theorizing whether the result of the game was more due to the Heat “losing” or Dallas “winning” (a moot and very annoying question, by the way), I think there’s something that most commentators are missing.  As you probably know, I watch and listen to a lot of basketball and talking heads.  None of the ones I listened to today, though, mentioned the fact that the game featured seven 10+ point swings: First, Dallas jumped out to a huge early lead and Miami came back.  Then Dallas got up by around 10 late in the second quarter only to see Miami again erase a deficit, sending the game tied into the 2nd half.  Then Miami blew open the game in the third, leaving Dallas down by something like 15 halfway through the quarter.  Then Dallas made a run and in the first couple minutes of the 4th, the Heat lead was only 2.  Then, of course, came the furious Heat 13-0 run that seemed to put the game away, only to see Dirk and Terry steal the game with a most improbable comeback.

What does this mean?  To me, this means that Dallas really can play with Miami.  If you followed the game closely, it became very apparent that the Heat scored a good percentage of their points on fast breaks and turnovers in general (31, actually).  So they scored 1/3 of their points when Dallas turned the ball over.  That means that their half-court offense was particularly weak.  And that showed over the last 6 minutes of regulation with long miss after long miss ruining Miami’s chances for victory.  But the most bizarre aspect of that is that those were the exact same shots that won Miami game 1.  Wade with a step-back three, Lebron with the fallaway three and the long fadeaway jumper.

Lebron and Wade have never been considered good shooters, but both have had some fantastic closing moments in these playoffs with big 3’s (think game 5 of the Chicago series) and terrific defense.  And now they have come back to earth.  But is this just for 1 game?  The answer is somewhere in between.  The SuperFriends are more talented than the Mavs, but that doesn’t mean all their shots will go down.  And most importantly, athleticism, size and quickness doesn’t help in 3-point shooting (Jimmer anyone?).  I still think the Heat have the ability to terrorize 4th quarters, but not with their long-ball barrage, but rather with an attack-first offense – something that was lacking in both games 1 and 2.  In game 1 they got, to some extent, lucky, and in game 2, very unlucky.

Finally, before I got into my standard game breakdown, I just want to give a word about Dallas’ defense.  It’s good.  Right now the Heat are averaging 3 more points per game than they did in the Chicago series.  Marion has been fantastic, as he’s held James to nearly a dead tie when considering Marion’s offense as well.  Chandler, Haywood (Haywood!) and Nowitzki have been fantastic against Bosh, who has been more of a super-sidekick this series.  Sure the Heat have gotten whatever they wanted when Peja is on the floor (poor, poor Peja; plus/minus of -10, 0-3 from the field and 5 or 6 anti-highlights in two games), but Kidd, Marion, Stevenson and even Terry have been holding their own defensively, giving Dallas a chance that I never foresaw in this series.

The turning point of the game was Nowitzki’s 3 that brought the roof down at the American Airlines Arena over 1300 miles away.  The shot capped a furious run that gave Dallas the lead with just 26 seconds remaining.  Sure Miami then hit a three and tied it back up allowing Nowitzki one final touch to put the game away for good, but the three was so much more epic.  The sight of a gangly 7-footer calmly stepping behind the arc and with a picture perfect release, swishing a 3 in the final minute of regulation was as odd as seeing a team come back from from down 15 in 6 minutes.  We’ve just been spoiled to expect it to go in every time.

Here we go with the player of the game.  As much as I’d love to give it to Dirk, I think I have to go with Marion.  Shawn Marion defended Lebron to a second consecutive sub 25 point game, forcing him into bad jump shot after bad jump shot late in the game.  He also scored 20 himself and was pivotal to Dallas’ initial comeback that stalled early in the 4th.  If he continues to play James almost even in the series (which has almost been true), I very much like Dallas’ chances in the series.  Dirk had the 9 crucial points down the stretch, but his so-so game up to that point makes me give the nod to Marion.

Going forward Miami has some soul searching to do.  What should be fairly scary for Heat fans is the fact that bad things seem to happen to these Heat in bunches.  They had periods of going 8-9, 1-5, and 1-6.  Considering they went 58 and 24, 83% of their losses came in those three stretches compared to just 17% of their wins.  Could this collapse spark another tailspin?  I don’t necessarily think so, but what I do think changes now is that Miami doesn’t feel so invincible anymore.  Yeah, it’s just one game, but it was demoralizing and like it or not, no matter how big their leads in the 4th going forward, this loss will be hanging over their heads.

For the Mavs there are two takeaways.  First, they can totally play with the Heat.  They split two games in Miami, held sizable leads in both games, and were right in the game going into the 4th quarter of each (down 4 both times if I remember correctly).  That is very encouraging.  The other takeaway is that they can dominate these Heat.  For 2 or 3 stretches during each game, the Mavs have been able to either erase or build fairly large leads very quickly, scoring in bunches.  Their game-winning 22-5 run at the end of game two is going to be the one everyone’s talking about, but their 12-4 run between the 3rd and early 4th quarters was also impressive.  The dirty secret is that in the half-court, the Mavs dominated the Heat on Thursday night.  If Dallas can cut down on TOs and continue to play excellent defense, Dirk may well win his first ring.

Yours Truly,

Basketblogger

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