Round 4, Game 5 (Dallas v Miami)

Final score: Dallas 112: Miami 103

This series is becoming stranger and stranger in my mind.  Dallas now takes a 3-2 lead going back to Miami for game 6 (and possibly 7), shattering my prediction and opening, for me, a huge bag of questions about Lebron and the Heat and basketball in general.

Before we consider all that, however, I do want to talk a little about the Mavericks.  Dallas pulled out a great game Thursday night.  For almost a week, people had been asking for Dallas’s shooters and bench to show up and finally it did.  Whether you believe it was the players stepping up or simply the law of averages, Dallas’ offense did exactly what was expected of it.  Dirk led the way as usual shooting 50% with 29 pts.  Then came Terry, Barea, Kidd and Chandler all in double figures.  Dallas had gotten decent production out of its bench and role players on Tuesday, but game 5 was different in that of all the players, Marion was the only one under 50% from the field.  Dallas (as well as Miami) broke 100 points for the first time this season and the Mavs team picked a good day to come out on fire.

But here’s the thing – even with Dallas burning holes in the bottoms of the nets, Miami was right in the game.  This poses a gigantic problem for me and everyone else trying to analyze the game and series seeing as Dallas was playing (almost) perfect basketball, shooting almost 60% and yet the Heat were right in the game with under 4 minutes to go.  How does that happen?  And worst of all, how are we to take it if Miami loses this series, but clearly is the better team athletically and talent-wise.

And this, of course, leads into the Lebron James discussion.  Let me make one thing very clear – Lebron James did not have a great game – he did not have anything close to a great game.  First of all, a triple-double means nothing.  Lebron’s performance should be judged independently of his ability to achieve double figures in base-10.  And that performance was weak.  And here’s the deal, I’m going to compare him to Jordan, because he himself started it, gunning for Mike by wearing #23, declaring himself the “King.”  In game 5 Lebron had a chance to prove he was no choker, to play with his back against the wall, to leave it all on the court.  To sugar-coat the opportunity, Wade got hurt meaning that Lebron was the undisputed #1 option for Miami.  And all he managed was 17 points.  Sure, some of the assists were nice, and the rebounds were great, but James wasn’t playing to win, he was playing not to lose.  This was a man on a mission – only his mission was to avoid criticism.

A prime example of this was the very first play of the game.  Having heard for two whole days about what a choker he was and how he was letting the team down (not to mention the garbage that Stevenson kept repeating), Lebron came out and snapped up the first rebound of the game with authority.  He raced down the court and immediately went into the post against Marion (by the way, Lebron has spent about 15 minutes in the past 8 years learning post-moves, so that’s not a good place for him to be).  He took a couple dribbles and kicked it back out.  End of possession 1.  Next time down the court, the same thing.  Lebron skied for a board, raced down court and, after taking a couple hearty dribbles and staring down his defender, passed the ball up.  The truth was that Lebron wasn’t playing with a passion or drive to bring a victory to his team, in the game of his life (self-proclaimed, btw), he was putting on a show – “see, mom, I told you I’m trying.”  His effort (what little aggression he had) was fueled not by a desire to win, but by a desire to not get criticized.

See, the Heat have been down this road before about 3 times this season.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, the majority of Miami losses have been during just a handful of horrid basketball streaks.  It’s not a coincidence.  Miami loses when the pressure gets into Lebron’s head.  Your basketball legacy is often measured not by the statistics you put up, but by how thoroughly you dominated when Jordan would have dominated.  We are just spoiled because Jordan did both – he put up fantastic numbers and kicked it up a gear in the clutch.  Consider this: Lebron is putting up better FG%, more assists and the same number of rebs as he did in the Chicago series.  Unanimously, the media said he had a fantastic Chicago series; the opposite could be said of his performance in this one.  Why?  It’s the 11 4th quarter points; it’s the missed 3’s down the stretch; it’s the lower volume shooting; it’s the Miami losses; it’s all of the above.

So here’s what I’m thinking (final thought before game recap, mind you).  I think Miami should never play all 3 of the Big 3 together on the court.  I’m sorry, Lebron, but you were better in Cleveland even if it did make your life tougher and you had to force the action more.  At least that challenge made you aggressive, because right now, you’re deferring to Wade, something my younger brother could do.  He put up some good stats, but left a goose-egg in the 4th, shied from the pressure and played with everything to lose.  That’s why his triple-double means nothing.  When it came down to it, he didn’t make the plays they needed him to make.  And that’s a shame.

The turning point of the game was the Nowitzki dunk with just a 2:45 remaining in the 4th.  The shot put Dallas up 2 and that lead, coupled with the gigantic 3’s from Terry and Kidd, won the game for the Mavs.  It seems like every night, Dirk finds a way to sneak into this segment of my breakdown, but it’s true, he’s been the crunch time MVP for Dallas and that cannot be overlooked (I hope Lebron is taking notes).

Player of the game is going to be a tough one to give out, but even though my head says Nowitzki, I’m going to show that I still have a heart and say Jason Terry (I wrote this then checked back at the stats: Terry +1; Nowitzki +14).  Terry made his shots all game (finally) and made about 3 plays in James’ face that just must have killed.  It’s hard enough when you play badly, but it’s 100 times worse when you’re playing badly, your counterpart is openly mocking you (can you defend me over a 7-game series) and then living up to his word, nailing dagger threes in your face.  Terry also chipped in 4 boards and 6 dimes, so kudos for him.  Another headline-grabbing player Thursday was Barea.  Watching all the games in the finals as I have, I really think Barea’s game 5 breakout had more to do with confidence than anything else.  It took 5 games, but Barea finally stopped missing easy (okay, okay, everything is relative; the shots were “close,” not “easy”) and hit a couple threes, which always makes your first step that much quicker.  But the biggest thing, I think, was a subtle move by the Mavs to put Chandler in the ball-screening position, allowing Nowitzki, Terry and Kidd to spread the floor.  This means that nobody can really help on the Chandler screen for fear of leaving a shooter open, allowing Barea a much simpler path to the basket.

Finally, going forward there are a number of little points I want to make.  First, the series is far from over.  Even if the Mavs win on Sunday, I will maintain (as I will to my grave) that the miami Heat of 2011 were a better group of basketball players than the Dallas Mavericks they played in the finals that year.  I fear using the word “team,” because at this point in the series, the Heat look like they’re in disarray with Lebron psyched out and Wade hurt.  However, if Dallas does win, this will be a huge victory for every highschool coach trying to convince his middling team that teamwork (as the commercial aptly puts) works; that hard work on defense and ball movement on offense win games, even against taller, bigger and stronger guys.

Secondly, this blog would be incomplete without mention of Dwayne Wade’s phenomenal play all series.  Wade has been fantastic, averaging 28 points on 58% shooting.  Oh, and he might have thrown his back out about midway through the first half of game 5 and still come back to put up 23-2-8 in a very under-rated performance.  Honestly, with the way he’s playing, I can’t imagine there not being at least a little fallout between him and Lebron if they lose this series.  Imagine Dwayne and Lebron talking after a game 6 loss:

Wade: “I can’t do it myself!  Please, just take a shot!  Be aggressive!  Make a drive to the basket.  Is that too much to ask?”

Lebron: “But I’m being a facilitator.  And I am being aggressive.  Didn’t you seem be grab that rebound at the start of game 5?  I came out with energy.”

If I were Wade, I’d be at a loss for words.  James, clearly the superior athlete and player, has completely bailed on the team, leaving him to lead this merry company.

Speaking of which, I would be remiss without mentioning at least in part, the extraordinary contributions of the wafer-thin Miami supporting cast while Lebron has been on vacation over the last few days.  First, Chalmers.  He’s averaging 10 ppg in the finals, more than anyone outside the Big 2 + Lebron averaged during the regular season.  Next, Miami’s bench put up 40 points in game 5 including a huge 10 from Haslem (a common beneficiary of Lebron’s pass-ivity; get it?), 9 from Miller and a completely unexpected 6 from Juan Howard (drat, now I have to make a brand new tag for him).  Without these 4 really stepping up, game 5 would have been a Dallas blowout.

So what are the chances Lebron is just playing this whole thing up and comes out with 45 on Sunday night?  If we’d been talking Jordan, I would have put money on that for sure.  With Lebron, chances seem slimmer than your average super-model.  There is no conceivable way you could argue that physically and athletically, Lebron is in any way inferior to Jordan – he’s taller, jumps higher, quicker, faster, etc…  And that’s what infuriates us.  He makes us think he’s wasting it.  And if a vasty inferior Dallas team defeats the SuperFriends on Sunday night, I think we’ll be justified in saying that he has.

Yours Truly,

Basketblogger

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  1. speaking of the series, i would’ve felt a small ounce of sympathy for the heat had they not done that pre-season celebration, the “decision”, wade and lebron’s mockery of dirk, the list goes on. but right now, no one in the world is feeling any sympathy or empathy for them.

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