Friday, June 3, 2011

Game 2 Notes

As the late Ralph Wiley once put it, the NBA Finals is the highest level of hoop. Sure, talented individuals like Rose, Durant, Bryant, Howard, Paul, Griffin, Love are not represented here, but this is a team game and stats alone don't yield wins. If stats gave wins, Mitch Richmond would have more than one ring.

We must keep this in mind when contemplating Dallas's two-point victory in Game 2 last night, 95-93. How could a 38-year-old point guard, a 6'2" shooting guard, a center that a center-less team refused to take, a 7'0" shooting guard, and a guy on his fourth team in four seasons beat the most talented and athletic group of guys in the league?

Excellent coaching strategy helps, but the confidence of veterans is yet more important. As I noted in April, teams with no prior playoff series wins never win the NBA title in any given year. It is also hard to expect a Chris Bosh to suddenly thrive in the NBA Finals, after never winning one playoff series in Toronto from 2003-04 through '09-10. Jason Kidd has never been known for fancy dribbling, but his pedestrian handle almost never loses control of the game.

Again and again last night, I watched Miami's defense force turnovers from Dallas's suite of small guards. Barea and Terry (and even Kidd, a bit) had their ball poked loose, or saw their shot blocked or altered, too many times to keep coach Carlisle tranquil. In all, Miami notched 15 steals and 8 blocks for the night; seven of Miami's eight players logged at least one steal. These numbers don't do enough to convey the swarming intensity of Miami's defense (for the first 42 minutes of the game, that is); Dallas repeatedly had trouble initiating basic offensive sets or using ball movement to create space. Meanwhile, Miami used these turnovers and possession changes to launch quick strikes to the other side of the court, slamming through numerous crowd-charging dunks. But late in the game, when Dallas learned to flummox the defense with better-executed screens (or double screens), the Mavs were able to begin the offensive show they displayed against Los Angeles and OKC.

With 3:11 left, Jason Terry to hit a jumper to cut the deficit to 4 points, and Miami knew they were troubled. Immediately after a Miami timeout, Chris Bosh dribbled the ball out of bounds for no reason, leading to a quick Nowitzki jumper that made things a single-basket game. After a few missed baskets, Shawn Marion led a fast break down the court and wisely flipped the ball to Nowitzki to evade a defender. Nowitzki laid in the ball, tying the game. After another Miami timeout, Dirk Nowitzki hit a three-pointer. Finally [after a tying bucket by Mario Chalmers], Nowitzki drove the ball one-on-one against Chris Bosh and hit the winning layup with his left hand at 0:04. LeBron James, guarding Jason Terry in the corner, couldn't decide whether to help against the Nowitzki parry or to stay with his man. James simply stood as a spectator and watched Nowitzki easily streak to the basket. Bosh also failed to commit his team's "foul to give" when Nowitzki began to dash free. [In the postgame press conference, Bosh admitted to poor defense on the final play against Nowitzki, but I did not hear James cop to anything similar.]

Bosh and James didn't know what to do, or were not able to make the right decisions in the required time frame. Nowitzki, Kidd, Marion, and Terry barely needed to think.

At this point I sincerely cannot say who will the series. Miami is slightly better, but Dallas has 3 of the 5 remaining home games. I recall a couple recent playoff Game 2s where a last-second game-winning shot gave an undeserved win to an apparently inferior team that had lost Game 1. Recall Kobe Bryant tying up the Pistons (sending the game to OT, to be eventually won by LA) with a three-pointer in 2004's Game 2, or LeBron James defeating Orlando the same way in 2009's Game 2. Folks thought that "momentum" in the series had turned. But the better team usually wins out; Bryant and James both lost their respective series, in the event. An inferior team can eke out an upset once, but four times? Can't happen.

[My comparison may strike some as inapt because prior to those series, folks thought that the Lakers and Cavaliers were the better teams. But the eyeball test eventually revealed the opposite. No one argues that the Lakers-with-injured-Malone or the Cavs were the better team compared to the Pistons and Orlando in those series.]

So, Miami could still win this one. Heck, they could have won Game 2 with just one or two luckier breaks: a miss by Nowitzki, perhaps a swish by Dwyane Wade on his last-second prayer. But right now Dallas looks like the hungrier AND smarter team.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lebron is the king

Germans like dirk suck almost as much as this stupid blog