2011 NBA Finals: 10 Factors That Could Determine Who Wins the NBA Championship
They've both received contributions in unexpected places to help them achieve upsets and advance to where every team dreams of going.
Now they're both here, but what is there to distinguish them from each other? Is one team better than the other that we can clearly see? I'm not sure there is, and I'm expecting a series that goes the distance.
We do know, however, that there are keys for each team that might be harbingers for success. If each team continues to do what it has done well in these playoffs, then good things will happen.
(For a position by position breakdown of the 2011 NBA Finals, click here).
Here are 10 factors that could go a long way in determining who reaches NBA immortality in 2011.
The Miami Heat center doesn't impact anything the team does offensively, but his defense has caused opponents all sorts of problems this postseason.
In finishing off the top-seeded Chicago Bulls, Anthony helped neutralize the ineffective Carlos Boozer, who shot just 40 percent from the field after shooting 52 percent in the previous series. The only games in which Boozer went off, Game 3's 26 points and Game 4's 20, it took him too many shots to do so, siphoning scoring opportunities from Derrick Rose and Luol Deng.
Further displaying his improvement down low, Anthony completely took Joakim Noah out of any rhythm he tried to set. Noah scored just six points per game and shot barely 30 percent with less than two blocks per game.
One might conclude that the Chicago bigs simply had a poor series collectively. That is true, but the reasons for concluding that could vary.
I choose to believe that the suddenly effective Joel Anthony made a big difference on the defensive end with his three blocks per game. He'll have to continue the strong work against Dallas when Dirk Nowitzki visits him in the paint with some fallaways or layup attempts.
The Miami Defense
All postseason long, the Miami defense has clamped down, suffocating opponents into poor shooting nights and low point totals. Miami's three opponents—76ers">Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago—averaged just 88.3 points, which is the second best points allowed mark of all playoff teams. Miami has also forced those opponents into 41.9 percent shooting, best among all qualifying teams.
Against Chicago, LeBron and the Heat took it up a notch, holding the Bulls to 83.3 points in the four Miami wins.
Getting stops on command in the playoffs is the mark of an NBA champion. When it mattered most, the Heat simply didn't allow Chicago to score. The Bulls' fourth quarter scoring was anemic, reaching 20 points just once in the series and averaging a paltry 16.3 points. Miami outscored the Bulls by a whopping 25 points in the fourth quarter of their wins.
With all four of their losses coming by 11 or less, it's clear that this is where Chicago lost games: in the fourth quarter when Miami just wanted it more.
I wouldn't characterize the Bulls as a scoring team. They like to win with defense just like the Heat.
The Mavs are a different matter altogether. They want their contagious shooting to carry them all the way to the final buzzer. They've shown that they can smother a team defensively, but that's not the primary way they find success.
Miami will have a little taller order stopping Dallas' offense than it did with Chicago.
Peja Stojakovic, the Dallas Mavericks' midseason waiver pickup, turned to gold in the West Semis against the Lakers.
He was one of the hot shooters that led Dallas to the four-game sweep of the champs on a ridiculous 52 percent from three-point range and 2.8 threes per game.
He got a minute slash in the Oklahoma City series because having him on the floor caused matchup problems for Dallas.
He is likely to get back to over 20 minutes per game in the finals because the Heat aren't as athletic as OKC through the middle. He won't draw the Heat's best athletes as defenders, but guys like Mike Miller or James Jones.
If Peja can spread the floor like he did against LA, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and JJ Barea should find great success getting in the lane against Miami's biggest weakness, the point guard.
If Peja can't stretch the defense to respect his three-point shot, the lanes of penetration will narrow, and Dallas might become a jumpshooting team all series.
By hitting a three early in each game, Stojakovic can do his part to completely change Miami's defensive game plan, which will inevitably benefit his more versatile teammates.
Dallas' spark plug off the bench used to be Jason Terry. In these playoffs, Jose Juan Barea has wrestled that title away from JET.
How many backup guards in the league can throw up 11.4 points per game in a meager 16.8 minutes? That's what Barea did to the Thunder, completely outplaying counterpart Eric Maynor.
He will be a big factor in the finals for two reasons: he's a bench player who will play against other bench players, and he's a point guard. Both are Heat deficiencies that Dallas must take advantage of.
If Barea carries his strong shooting from the last two series into the next, he's likely to average over 10 points in the finals, which will be a great boost for Rick Carlisle's squad.
Jason Kidd's Defense
The 38-year-old Jason Kidd, previously thought to be washed-up, has been a revelation over the last two months. His stats look very similar to his regular season ones, but his command of the team and timely clutch play have been huge indicators of Dallas' success.
Another big help has been his great defense, which has come out of nowhere. Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant can certainly attest to that fact. Rick Carlisle brilliantly decided to stick Kidd on Bryant in the West Semis, and it worked like gangbusters.
He did the same thing in the next series by sicking Kidd on Durant for stretches. Kidd played physical, cut off the drive and forced contested jumpers by both players, which led to some inefficient shooting games.
Kidd will look to keep his lockdown D going against Miami. He'll likely draw the Dwyane Wade assignment in hopes of shutting down the Heat's best perimeter player. Wade isn't a great shooter, so Carlisle and Kidd can employ the same strategy they have all playoffs long: cut off penetration on the ball and force outside shots.
James Jones' impact is usually minimal, but one game in this postseason shows how much of a lift he can give the Miami Heat.
In Game 1 against Boston, Jones poured in 25 points on five threes and 10-10 free throws in a 99-90 win. This was a game in which LeBron James shot 8-19, Chris Bosh, Mike Bibby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas combined for 10 points and the other Heat subs scored four points combined. The Heat needed a little something extra to hold its lead and Jones provided it.
He hasn't topped nine points in any other playoff game.
Jones, if his injured toe permits him to play, will not be a point of attention in the Dallas defensive strategy. He'll likely draw Peja Stojakovic, who isn't known for his defensive prowess, and will be the first or second player that the Mavs help off of.
If he shoots well, he can give his team a boost from an unexpected source, which will be vital in an even game.
Chris Bosh is coming off an excellent series against the Bulls, with 23.2 points and 7.6 rebounds on 60 percent shooting.
All season long, Bosh has been the guy who picks up the scraps. When teams devote all their resources to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Bosh is the next most capable Heat player to make the opponent pay. At times, he's soft and unfocused, while locked-in and aggressive alternatively.
One thing that stuck out to me about Bosh in the Chicago series is that he was confident. It didn't matter that he was going up against one of the best defensive centers in Joakim Noah or having to rub elbows with Carlos Boozer. Bosh played his game regardless of everything else, and he was excellent.
As the direct counter to Dirk Nowitzki in the finals, Bosh needs to approximate his opponent's production. He doesn't have to play better than Dirk or outscore him, but he needs to be a positive for his team, not a negative. The Heat cannot get sorely outplayed at the PF position in this series, which means that Bosh will have a lot of responsibility to defend Dirk on the perimeter, then still have enough focus and energy to score.
Boozer and Noah are one level of good, but Dirk is a few levels up right now. I'm very anxious to watch this matchup to see if Bosh's confident play persists against a player who is better than he is.
Dirk hasn't faced a defender that mirrors his game as much as Bosh does, so the different look, and Bosh's familiarity with the style, could get Dirk off his game just a bit.
Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers
Nobody, not even Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, expects anything from Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers.
The two Heat point guards essentially split the position's minutes down the middle, but with little productivity or impact. Most of the time, they don't even have the ball in their hands because of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James' ballhandling capabilities.
The only impact that is really open to them, then, is defensive and three-point shooting. Chalmers' four steals and two threes in the Game 4 overtime win against Chicago is a great illustration of the bearing he can have on his team's success.
The charge will be simple for these two: work your hardest on defense against the frenetic Mav guards (Jason Kidd and Terry and JJ Barea), don't turn the ball over and hit a timely three or two.
With the huge percentage of offense that is carried by Wade, James and Chris Bosh, that's all Spoelstra needs from his point guards.
Udonis Haslem hasn't hit a shot (0-9) in his last two games, but his 14 rebounds made their mark on two narrow Miami wins.
Haslem, back from a long injury recovery, gives the Heat another big man off the bench that allows Erik Spoelstra to leave Juwan Howard and Jamaal Magloire on the pine.
Haslem's role has clearly changed this season. For one, he doesn't start. Two, his dependable baseline 15-footer is no longer a part of the offense. By default, his impact has changed without his game changing at all.
He can still help his team on the boards and by hitting that jump shot when he's open. The Mavs don't really have anyone to guard him when he enters for Chris Bosh because Dirk Nowitzki or Shawn Marion will always be busy with LeBron James, so those open looks could come more in this series.
Dallas should not overlook Haslem. He's the kind of player that will throw up a 16 and 11 on you if you ignore him. If the Heat can get just one of those games out of their reliable backup PF, they'll have a much better chance of winning the series.
Jason Terry doesn't start for Dallas, but that doesn't mean he's unimportant.
JET, a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate, plays as well off the bench as any guard in the NBA, and this year was no different.
In the playoffs he's been masterful, upping his scoring average to 17.3, while hitting on 46 percent of his threes. He's also lowered his turnovers and added to his steals.
Expect Terry and Kidd to play a lot together because Dwyane Wade can only guard one of them. The other will have to be marked by Mario Chalmers or Mike Bibby, which will be a big advantage for Dallas. Terry is likely the one to get the secondary defender, a matchup that he will salivate over each night.
Terry struggled in the West Finals against the Thunder, shooting just 37 percent from the field, down from his scalding 59 percent against the Lakers.
What makes him so dangerous, though, is his ability to adjust when his outside shot isn't falling. He quit launching and concentrated on getting to the foul line against OKC, which resulted in making 20 out of 21 free throws in the series.
Terry could be one of the biggest advantages Dallas has if he's on, or he could fade into the background if he's not aggressive.
Either way, he could significantly sway the course of the 2011 NBA Finals.