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June 1, 2011
Playoff Prospectus
Miami Strikes First

by Kevin Pelton

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at Miami 92, Dallas 84 (Miami leads 1-0)
Pace: 83.3
Offensive Ratings: Miami 109.6, Dallas 101.6

Game One of the NBA Finals looked a lot like the Miami Heat's wins in the Eastern Conference Finals, and for that matter the win over the Boston Celtics a round earlier. For 40-plus minutes, the Heat ground out a near-draw before unleashing a devastating run in the closing minutes to win by a more lopsided score than was really accurate.

This time, Miami struck with just under four minutes left to play and a precarious four-point lead. Starting with a pair of Chris Bosh free throws, the Heat scored on eight of its final 10 possessions while the Dallas Mavericks continued to struggle to generate offense. Dirk Nowitzki contributed all three of the Mavericks' scores on their next seven possessions. The result was a 14-6 run that pushed Miami's lead as large as 12 points.

The big takeaway from Game One was Dallas' inability to get consistent scoring from players besides Nowitzki. Shawn Marion scored 16 points, yes, but just three of them came in the fourth quarter. Jason Terry scored all 12 of his points before halftime. Without Terry's production, Nowitzki scored 10 of the Mavericks' 23 fourth-quarter points. Nobody else on the roster scored more than three points in the period.

Down the stretch, LeBron James was responsible for taking Terry away defensively. Even when it meant putting Dwyane Wade on the bigger Marion, Erik Spoelstra stuck with the matchup. James on Nowitzki is not ideal, but deploying the NBA's ultimate defensive weapon on Terry also speaks to the importance the Heat places on shutting him down. Terry got and missed an open three-pointer when Miami was scrambling, but otherwise he was invisible.

Somehow, Terry was still the best of the Dallas reserves. Peja Stojakovic creates enough defensive issues and was so bad in the third quarter that Rick Carlisle decided to bring back DeShawn Stevenson rather than play him in the final period. Jose Barea, meanwhile, missed seven of his eight shot attempts. While Barea got some attempts at the rim, the Heat's length made those shots more difficult than the in-rhythm attempts Barea has gotten the last two rounds.

The impact of Miami's size on the perimeter was also evident in the way the Heat defended Nowitzki. Miami did not adjust much to Nowitzki's presence as a pick-and-pop threat, preferring to stop the ballhandler and trusting the rotations to keep Nowitzki from getting clean looks. The results were about as good as Spoelstra could have hoped. No other Mavericks got going, while Nowitzki hardly dominated. He shot just 7-of-18 from the field, though he maintained his efficiency thanks to 12 free throws.

As expected, the time Nowitzki spent on the bench proved crucial. During the seven and a half minutes he sat, the Heat outscored Dallas 14-8. When Nowitzki was resting during the third quarter, Miami grabbed the lead for good, forcing Carlisle to spend a timeout to get Nowitzki back in the game. The only way the Mavericks can survive without Nowitzki is to get scoring from Terry and Stojakovic, so on nights like this Dallas is doomed whenever Nowitzki sits.

Before the closing run, the Heat's offense was little more effective. Despite impressive ball movement, Miami made just 35.7 percent of its two-point attempts. The Heat was able to overcome that two ways. The first was accurate shooting from long range, which was Miami's salvation against extensive first-half zone defense. Mario Chalmers had three of the Heat's five second-quarter three-pointers, finding open shot attempts in the corners. The other was the offensive glass. Led by Chris Bosh, who nearly had as many offensive rebounds as Miami all by himself, the Heat came up with 16 second chances in 46 opportunities. The offensive boards were largely responsible for Miami attempting 13 more shots than Dallas.

The Mavericks' strategy of packing things in the paint was far more effective against the Heat's starting lineup. Mike Bibby missed all four shots he took from beyond the arc, while Joel Anthony hampered Miami's floor spacing. At this point, Udonis Haslem is clearly the Heat's best option in the middle. Miami played well with both Chalmers and Mike Miller as the fifth player on the floor. The Heat seemed likely to close with Miller, whose size allows Miami to match up more naturally when James defends Terry, before he injured his left shoulder and sat out the last 3:58. The Heat said after the game the injury wasn't serious, an assessment which contrasted with the fact that Miller was spotted wearing a sling.

Dallas opened up with Stevenson defending James and Marion on Wade, flipping the expected matchups. Because Stevenson played just 14 minutes, those matchups didn't last long, though Stevenson's effective play against James means he's likely to return to the floor when Marion rests at the start of the second and fourth quarters. Most of the night, Marion was on James with Kidd defending Wade. Neither superstar went off. James played a controlled game, attempting just 16 shots. His three-point shooting (4-of-5) carried over from the last two rounds and supplied needed scoring during the third quarter. After a slow first half (seven points on 3-of-10 shooting), Wade was terrific during the second half, scoring 15 points and making six of his nine shot attempts.

One surprise from the fourth quarter is that the Mavericks scarcely used any zone defense. The zone was effective during the first half because Miami generally settled for threes instead of probing for higher-percentage looks. Attacking the zone was surely part of Spoelstra's halftime adjustments, but with the Heat's stars taking over zone might have been one way to break the momentum. Whether zone will be a larger part of Carlisle's game plan in Game Two will be interesting to see.

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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Indiana Turns the Page (06/01)
<< Previous Column
Playoff Prospectus (05/26)
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Playoff Prospectus (06/03)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Devil of a Problem (06/02)

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