By John Schmeelk
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After last night’s comeback win, a lot of attention, and rightfully so, is being paid to how the Mavericks managed to maintain their composure after going down fifteen points with 7:13 to play.
Dirk Nowitzki, who shot poorly for much of the game, looked like the guy who almost single-handedly knocked the Oklahoma Thunder out of the playoffs. In the final six minutes he was unstoppable. But none of that would have been possible if Miami’s stars didn’t play hero basketball after going up 88-73.
Doc Rivers was the first person to popularize the term, using it to describe moments when a team’s best players decide to step out of the team concept and take low percentage shots in one-on-one situations because they think it is their responsibility to win the game. The Miami Heat managed just five points in the final seven minutes of the game (three from Mario Chalmers), and it had everything to do with their stars trying to show everyone how good they were. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and to a lesser extent, Chris Bosh all tried to be heroes. This was the bad Miami Heat team that couldn’t finish games during the regular season finally showing itself in the playoffs.
In that final stretch to close out the game, James and Wade combined to shoot 0-7, including five three-pointers, most of which were guarded well. The other two shots were a contested James step-back jumper and a missed contested layup. Chris Bosh chipped in with a missed twenty-foot jumper of his own and a turnover on a post isolation play. Miami reverted to one-on-one basketball and missed very difficult shots, the same type of shots they had been fortunate to make during much of the playoffs up to this point. LeBron James wasn’t going to continue canning threes at the end of games forever. He is not that good of a shooter and neither is Dwyane Wade. They all tried to be heroes and came up short.
Dallas, meanwhile, continued to run their offense. They canned high percentage mid-range jumpers, wide open threes off of ball movement, and got to the basket. It was the classic brains versus brawn scenario, and in this case, Miami’s physical superiority could not overcome the smart controlled play of Dallas. Miami’s typically sturdy defense also broke down. For some reason LeBron James didn’t help after Nowitzki beat Bosh off the dribble on the Mavericks final possession. Earlier in the quarter, Bosh didn’t switch or show when Udonis Haslem was screened by Tyson Chandler, setting up Dirk for a wide open three.
If Dallas played as well as they did the final seven minutes for the entire game, they would have won by twenty. For stretches of the second, third, and early fourth quarters it really looked like the Mavericks were trying to give the game away. Foolish and unnecessary Dallas fouls put them in the penalty and Miami at the line at the end of the second quarter, allowing the Heat to tie the game at halftime after trailing by nine.
Turnovers were the bigger problem for Dallas. They had 18 for the game, five each by Dirk and Jason Kidd, giving the Heat too many easy opportunities in transition. Those easy buckets led to Miami opening up that 15 point lead. Dallas’ halfcourt defense is excellent, but that doesn’t matter when they turn it over and let the Heat run, which is their strength. Dallas cleaned up their play the last seven minutes, but they nearly gave the game away with their uncharacteristic sloppy play. Kidd and Nowitzki can both normally be counted on to make good decisions. Credit the Heat defense a little bit, but it had much more to do with unforced errors than superior defense. These mistakes made it a minor miracle that the Mavericks were even in a position to make a comeback and makes their win even more impressive. There’s no reason to think the Mavericks will turn it over like that again this series.
The country has a real NBA Finals on their hands now. The Mavs outrebounded Miami by double digits and outscored their bench by 10, reversing two bad Game 1 trends. Jason Terry found his shooting touch in the fourth quarter, as did Dirk Nowitzki, two other musts for Dallas. The Mavericks continued to keep Miami penetrators out of the lane, turning them into a jump shooting team. LeBron James stopped making some of the ridiculous, unstoppable shots that had been going in during the playoffs. All those trends should be expected to continue in the Mavericks favor.
Home court advantage has shifted. We’re going to find something out about the Heat, now that they are facing some true adversity for the first time in the playoffs. Will they come together like a team or will their stars all try to be heroes, dooming them to failure?
- Jason Terry is breathing a huge sigh of relief after his bone-headed decision to leave Mario Chalmers wide open for the three that tied the game with 25 seconds to play. He did something similar earlier in the fourth quarter when he pressed LeBron full court, when he was supposed to be guarding Chalmers. I doubt he’ll be so willing to leave Chalmers like that again as the series moves on. The Heat trust him to take those types of open shots at the end of games.
- Take this into consideration: The Mavericks won this game despite the fact they turned it over 18 times, Dirk shot poorly for three and half quarters, and JJ Barea gave them nothing. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James combined to shoot 21-35, a ridiculous percentage. This is a game the Mavericks very well could have, and probably should have lost. We still haven’t seen Dallas’ ‘A’ game in this series for long stretches. We saw it the last seven minutes and now we’ll see if they can bring it home to Dallas.
- I’ll take this time for my annual complaint about the 2-3-2 NBA finals format. It doesn’t make any sense and puts the road team at too big of a disadvantage. First, why go away from the 2-2-1-1-1 that works the rest of the playoffs and is a fair format? Travel? Please. It kills the underdog. Only twice since the format was changed back in the mid 80’s has the home team won games three, four and five. It is simply too difficult to win three straight at home. If Mavericks hadn’t stolen Game 2, they would have likely had to win Games Six and Seven in Miami if they wanted to win the series. Remember, being from two different conferences, Miami and Dallas played far different schedules during the season. For their overall records to mean this much, more than they would when playing in their own conference playoffs, just doesn’t make any sense. David Stern, I’m begging you, make the change.
- Finally, a note on Shaquille O’Neal. He was a dominant player and personality (something that wore thin with many teammates) during his time in the NBA, but he is not the best center I have ever seen play. He is not a top ten all-time player for a few reasons. First, he is very one-dimensional and didn’t expand his game. You wonder how much he actually practiced in the offseason. His free throw shooting hardly improved, he barely extended his range around the basket during the course of his career, and he quickly got out of shape and cruised during parts of his later seasons.
Never a great defender, he became a terrible liability in his last years with the Lakers and then with Miami, Phoenix, and Boston. He relied solely on his physical gifts, which were substantial, which allowed him to dominate. I drop him behind Hakeem Olajuwon in the all-time center rankings for all of the above reasons, and one more important one: Shaq could never be the go-to guy at the end of games for his team because of his poor free throw shooting.
Kobe Bryant had to finish games for the Lakers. Dwyane Wade carried Shaq on his back at the end of games (and most other times too) when he got his fourth title in Miami. This is a big deal and one of the reasons Shaq only won one MVP. Olajuwon was more versatile on offense, an infinitely better defender, and was his team’s option when it mattered most. He was better than Shaq, who will be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but was also a player with many flaws that were hidden by his physical gifts. With all that said, the NBA will miss him, one of the last true post up centers.
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