Tonight, the Dallas Mavericks are likely feeling a bit of the sickness that the Miami Heat felt after the end of Game Two. In a nail-biter that came down to the final seconds, but was really decided much, much earlier, the Heat hung on in the end to surge ahead in the series, 2-1. It is not that Dallas lost a lead late like the Heat did in Game two; in fact, their only lead of the game was in the 1st quarter. Rather, the entire game felt like Dallas should have been in front, but by virtue of the Heat's stingy defense, Dwyane Wade, and the surprising Mario Chalmers, they in fact were playing catch-up. The game was to be had, but like the Heat felt on Thursday, it slipped away.
In consideration of the four elements that I was pondering in my preview, I do believe that each one was addressed in varying degrees. Let's take a look.
1. Can Mavs hold an early lead?
This first one is going to be painful for Maverick fans, because despite the fact that Dallas' largest lead was five midway through the 1st quarter, it was the fact that these early moments seemed to be the only time throughout the game where Dallas had a true offensive rhythm. They were looking strong right up until about the seven minute mark, and then suddenly but in repeat fashion from the first two games, Dallas started to commit unforced mistakes.
Open jump shots that the Mavs have made all season long started to clank out. Jason Kidd committed two turnovers. Miami started to get to the front of the rim, finishing with dunks, layups, and and-1's. In one particularly emblematic sequence, the Mavs had a great defensive stand where Kidd blocked a Wade layup attempt. Peja Stojakovic grabbed a defensive rebound, but then wildly threw a bad outlet pass that was easily intercepted by LeBron James, which then led to a made jumper by Udonis Haslem. The reason why I felt this one sequence was so representative of the Mavs' mis-fortunes is that they seemed to once again turn a gallant defensive play into a wasted offensive possession by not doing the fundamental things on which the team has prided itself.
Before you knew it, the Mavs' five point lead turned into a four point deficit. Even that would not have been so bad, but then good fortune shone on the Heat as Chalmers dropped in a near-halfcourt shot as the buzzer sounded. On top of that, the shot arguably should have never even counted. Even so, you still have to make the shot. Chalmers made the shot.
In a game that was decided by two points, the Heat proved once again that it is sometimes better to be lucky than good.
2. Will LeBron and Wade continue shooting 3's?
I think this point is going to go as one of the more understated elements that keyed the Heat win, but I think it proved to be important because the Heat cut down their 3-point attempts from 30 in Game Two to 19 tonight. More importantly, James went 1-4 and Wade went 2-4, one of which was a huge 4th quarter 3-pointer that pushed a three point lead back up to six with four and a half minutes to play. It was not so much that these two should not take any threes at all, it is just that they should be shooting them judiciously. Wade knew that he needed a big moment to keep the Heat in front, and his big shot met this need.
More importantly, the duo let the other Heat shooters do their jobs. Specifically, tonight was about Mario Chalmers stepping up and hitting some huge 3-pointers. Aside from his buzzer beater at the end of the 1st, he went 4-6 in total, including another big shot in the 4th. Chalmers finally gave the Heat the spot-up outside shooting that they needed to allow Wade and also Chris Bosh the space to work. Most important, his presence on the court in Miami's final sequence helped the Heat balance out the court, enabling Bosh to get open in the corner for what proved to be the deciding points.
3. Will the Mavs bench show up?
The Mavericks really needed their bench to play better this time out, because the 2nd unit, led by Jason Terry and Jose Barea, has been spotty at best. It is unfortunate that Brendan Haywood is still injured because he has proven to be valuable in limited minutes, but he is normally not the difference in offensive sets. Likewise, Peja Stojakovic is a nice addition, but he has not been reliable in this post-season.
No, the balance of the blame once again falls on Terry and Barea. Terry did have his moments in working his way to 15 points, but he has not proven to be that offensive spark that shone so brightly in the Laker series. Even when his looks are there, especially from 3-point range, Terry has looked unbalanced and rushed in his shooting.
As for Barea, I'm actually afraid to re-visit the Mavs Moneyball game thread because the vitriol was so fierce (and I might add, mostly deserved). The Heat are swallowing up the diminutive Barea in ways that he has not seen so far in the playoffs, but even that does not account for his abysmal play. Tonight, Barea managed six points on 2-8 shooting, (1-5 from three), and committed four turnovers. At this point, given his play, Barea really should not be on the court, because he is not making shots and he is not getting the ball to the players he needs to. Would the use of Corey Brewer at the 2-guard spot, while Terry mans the point, really be so terrible at this point? I think coach Rick Carlisle has to at least consider the move, because right now, the 2nd unit is too small and not physical enough to contend with the brutal Heat perimeter defense.
In a series where Dirk Nowitzki is proving to be the ONLY dependable offensive option in the 1st unit (Marion was the only other starter in double figures, scoring 10), the Dallas bench must perform more competently if the Mavs are going to have any shot at staying competitive in this series.
4. Did the
Heat Mavs really let one go?
If you contend that the Mavs did not exactly "let one go," as Wade put it after Game Two, they certainly let this one slip away. Despite all of their missteps and misfortune along the way, there they were once again in the 4th quarter, ready to steal the win. Riding on the broad shoulders of Dirk and his 15 4th quarter points, the Mavs fought back to tie the game at 86 with 1:39 to play. After an incredible defensive sequence where once again Shawn Marion blocked a desperation 3-pointer (this time against LeBron), the Mavs had a great shot to take the lead just like in Game Two.
It seemed like the perfect time for another of Dallas' set plays that got Dirk into the wing for either a shot or drive, but instead the Mavs looked to Jason Terry in the corner, and he missed a fade-away 18 footer. Was this the shot the Mavs were looking for? Was this even a good shot? I don't know. It did not feel like a good shot to me. The shot was taken a little early in the shot clock (seven seconds to go) and was not in the hands of the man who has delivered for the Mavs countless times. I know that Terry is confident and that the team trusts him to step up, but as they say, hindsight is 50-50. Is that really the shot Dallas wanted? I don't know.
In the end, with the game on the line and the ball once more in Dirk's hands he got a shot with which he was probably comfortable. The Mavs likely had the choice of running a quick set to spring an open look or to just go with Dirk and let him get comfortable, and the team went with the latter. I think you have to feel comfortable with that shot. Dirk has delivered in this type of moment repeatedly this post-season to the point where both team and fan assumes that the shot is going in. I know I did. Unfortunately, when you play these odds with so little margin for error time and time again, sometimes you double down on an 11 and the dealer ends up with a 21.
The best bet? Next time start out with more than three chips in hand before the situation goes bust again.
Next Game: Miami at Dallas, June 7, 9PM EST