The hard-charging Dallas Mavericks, who were used to regularly crossing the “century mark” in their Western Conference playoff games, got a taste of the tough defense that Miami has consistently used to keep some of their own playoff opponents in the East under 90, and sometimes even under 80 points per game.
For the season, the Mavericks averaged just over 100 points of offense a game. But, with Miami's fly paper-like defense, Dallas was lucky to get more than 80 Tuesday night in their 92-84 loss to the Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Erik Spoelstra, Miami’s young head coach, showed he clearly understood the dynamics of the situation when, late in the third period, he huddled with his team during a timeout, saying “This is going to be a grind.”
Miami then proceeded to prove they can do the “grinding” down the stretch as well as anyone. The Heat went on to clearly demonstrate they are not the same squad who lost twice to the Mavericks during the regular season. They played Dallas tight around the rim, never allowing Dirk Nowitzki to get into any scoring rhythm in the paint – he made only 7 of 18 shots from the field, for 27 total points.
The Heat were also successful in forcing Dallas to defend their style of game – crucial if Miami is to win this series – which involved fast breaks, quick transitions and kick-outs to the perimeter. For a patient and deliberate veteran team like Dallas, this caused considerable fits.
Though they shot poorly from inside the three-point line (38%), Miami hit 11 of 24 of their three-pointers and, with 16 offensive rebounds, got a critical edge in second-chance points. All told, Miami out-rebounded Dallas, 46-36.
Throughout the second half, there were several instances where it seemed Dallas was holding back on defending Dwyane Wade and James behind the arc, and that proved to be deadly. In part, it allowed Wade to tally 7 important fourth quarter points.
And key for helping the Heat to win on the inside was keeping Tyson Chandler away from the boards. Among others, Miami’s Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh effectively neutralized Chandler – allowing him only 4 boards, which was one fewer than his personal fouls (5).
And when Dallas got the ball into Nowitzki, or on the outside to Jason Terry or DeShawn Stevenson, they were hurried into shots by the Heat’s suffocating defense. In particular, during the second half, LeBron James was assigned to guard Terry, and that further complicated Dallas’ point production.
In fact, for the night, Dallas shot only 37% from the floor. Not even a double-double by Shawn Marion (16 points/10 rebounds) could rescue the Mavericks’ anemic offense. Miami, for their part, set a balanced offensive attack, led by James (24 points), Wade (22 points), and Bosh (19 points). Second-year guard Mario Chalmers, using the easy shooting style that made him a star at the University of Kansas, chipped in 12 off the bench for the Heat. And Mike Miller, the ten-year veteran forward from the University of Florida, added six crucial points during the third period to get the Heat even-up with Dallas.
The Mavericks, as the game progressed, were increasingly flummoxed by Miami’s defense in the paint. Speedy guard JoseJuan (J.J.) Barea, who scored 21 easy points in one game driving against Oklahoma City’s big men, could only make one of his eight shots. His floaters and layups were persistently contested and either wound up as airballs or just grazing the iron.
And if Miami previously had no idea of how to keep Dallas’s made free throws to a minimum, they found out how to do it last night: just get Mavericks’ center Brendan Haywood to the line. Hitting only 36% of his free throws in the regular season, Haywood managed to make only 3 of 6 down the stretch – and looked pretty bad at it.
Rick Carlisle, the Mavericks’ head coach, seemed to express his team’s frustration when he complained to the referees about one Miami fan waving a large flag behind the basket when Haywood was trying to shoot. But all theatrics aside, this was a game Dallas would just as soon forget. When you play the other team’s game, you get beaten. It’s that simple.