NBA Finals 2011: 10 Ways for Miami Heat To Ensure Series Victory over Mavericks
Readers, I had this crazy nightmare where the Heat actually blew a fourth-quarter lead again. They were up by 15 points in one of the biggest games in franchise history and opted to take a defensive approach rather than pushing for the last eight minutes of a Finals game against one of the best teams in basketball. Thank goodness it was just a nightmare.
For Heat fans, they basically lived a real-life nightmare when they witnessed their team blow a comfortable 15-point lead at home in only a few minutes' worth of time in the fourth quarter. Instead of using momentum and their athleticism to truly put the game out of reach, the Heat instead took a step back, took their foot off the gas pedal and allowed Dallas to stage a comeback. Instead of being up 2-0 heading into three games at the American Airlines Center, the series is tied at one apiece.
The comeback was a huge blow to the Heat, but it doesn't mean that they're out of it. They're still the same team that we have witnessed over the past month. They're the same team that only needed 10 combined games to take out the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics and they're the same team that used fourth-quarter heroics to beat Dallas in Game 1. Game 2 was a mental lapse and a horrible one at that.
Home-court advantage belongs to Dallas now, but here are 10 ways for the Heat to come out with their dignity and pride in tact and a championship under their belts.
Keep LeBron James on Jason Terry
One of the reasons why the Heat were able to secure Game 1 was their overall defense. They held Dallas to 37 percent shooting and allowed only Dirk Nowitzki to score over 20 points. Miami allowed Nowitzki to get his points, but it closed off an outlet to every one of his teammates with Jason Terry suffering the most at the hands of a sly move by Erik Spoelstra.
Expecting defense from Dwyane Wade or Mario Chalmers, it most likely came as a surprise to Terry and the rest of the Mavericks coaching staff to see 6'8" LeBron James as his primary defender. It worked to perfection as the sharp shooter finished with 12 points, all in the first half, and only hit three of his 10 shots. James' size obviously disrupted the much smaller guard, who was never able to find a rhythm.
However, in Game 2 we didn't see too much of this as James was left to guard Shawn Marion for most of the night, leaving Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers to guard Terry for most of the fourth quarter. That resulted in Terry making key shots to start the comeback and finishing with 16 points on a much improved 5-of-11 shooting.
Much like how the Heat should have one of their most aggressive players defending Dirk, they need their most aggressive defender to defend Terry. He's the second scoring option for Dallas and it would greatly help the Heat's cause if they can cut off one of the Mavericks' main resources.
Keep Udonis Haslem on Dirk Nowitzki
Why was Chris Bosh defending Dirk Nowitzki on the most pivotal play of the game? I can't even begin to wonder.
Considering that Bosh is possibly the worst option to be defending Nowitzki at any time, it definitely came as a surprise to see him defending the Mavericks' best player. Bosh isn't a physical defender and it's what allowed Dirk to get all the way to the rim at the worst possible time for Miami. Nowitzki's weakness is when a defender plays extremely physical and the Heat had that answer on the floor in Udonis Haslem.
All night long, Nowitzki was disrupted by Haslem's in-your-face defense. Prior to losing his mind in the fourth quarter, Nowitzki was shooting 6-of-17 from the field and wasn't near finding any sort of offensive rhythm until the Heat decided that Bosh would be the best man to guard him. The Heat need to keep either Haslem or Joel Anthony on him at all times as Bosh would only prove to be a defensive liability if he is guarding Dirk.
Even though Nowitzki has the size advantage and can shoot over Haslem or Anthony, those two defenders still provide what is necessary to get Dirk out of his comfort zone and out of rhythm.
Don't Rely on the Outside Jumper
All right, guys. We know you can shoot from the perimeter, but that doesn't mean you can solely rely on it for the final eight minutes of Game 2.
In Game 1, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were uncharacteristically brilliant from beyond the arc. A 33 percent career three-point shooter in James shot 4-of-5, while a 29 percent career three-point shooter in Wade hit 2-of-4 three-point attempts. They had rhythm in their shots from deep and it was a good sign to see the Heat get some production from the perimeter from players that aren't relatively quality shooters.
Game 2 nearly saw the same results as both players hit two three-pointers, but they got a little too reliant on a shot that isn't their expertise. They each missed five three-pointers as the entire team combined to shoot a ludicrous 30 three-pointers, only making nine of them. In the final eight minutes of their collapse, the Heat only took one shot from within 20 feet and saw the most production come from there as the Mavs were forced to foul on one of the few possessions that the Heat took it inside.
When you make a few shots from deep, you'll get confident and think you can consistently hit that shot. However, the expertise of these two dominant players is to drive, attack and force their opponents into foul trouble. Tyson Chandler had five fouls with a little less than five minutes remaining and the Heat flat-out refused to take advantage by driving.
For the Heat to win this series, they're going to need LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to do what they do best: drive.
Feed the Hot Hand
Dwyane Wade just hit his second three-pointer right in front of the Mavericks bench for his 36th point of the game.
He didn't get many looks after that.
For some reason, the Heat turned into the Cleveland Cavaliers of years prior where LeBron James basically ran isolation plays for the final eight minutes of Game 2. With the offense stagnant and predictable, the Mavericks were able to relax on defense and were able to give an all-out effort on offense. Miami basically allowed Dallas to take a break on defense because of just how little ball and player movement there was.
The beautiful thing of having three of the league's top scorers is the ability to rely on one of those players if the other players aren't on their game that night. In the case of last night, it belonged to Dwyane Wade and no one else. From the beginning, he was hitting on every shot from close range and from deep. Much like how Game 1 was James' night, Game 2 belonged to Wade and it should have for the full 48 minutes.
Allow these players to take turns in taking over. If one player is feeling it more than the others, allow him to dominate the ball and to dictate the offense. There's no need to force the issue of attempting to get the other two players involved if one player is already in the middle of taking the game over. All it did was feed the ball to a player that wasn't having the best night and take the ball out of the hands of a player who was having a terrific night.
Shooters Need To Shoot and Make Shots
Aside from the Big Three, the rest of this Heat team has some very strange tendencies.
It seems that only one Heat shooter per game is allowed to provide some sort of offense. In last night's game, Mike Bibby made his NBA Finals appearance and performed well with 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc. It was an unlikely contribution from Bibby who had missed all four of his three-point attempts in Game 1 and had struggled for most of the postseason, only shooting 29 percent for the playoffs.
The shooters from the bench, however? Basically non-existent. Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller combined to shoot 1-of-9 from deep with Miller contributing a grand total of zero points in 15 minutes' worth of game time. While Miller's rebounding is extremely helpful to the Heat's cause, they brought him here so that he can be a knock-down shooter. This is a setback considering that Miller had hit at least one three-pointer in the past four games.
Shooters like Bibby, Chalmers and Miller will all need to make some sort of offensive impact if they want their team to win. Miami needs more than a quality shooting performance from just one player per game—they need this consistently from at least two of these players. There's no reason for only one player per game to decide to show up.
Attack, Attack and Attack Some More
As I stated in the previous slide dealing with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's tendency to get a little too comfortable shooting the ball from deep, this Heat team is at its best when those two are driving at will and keeping their opponent's defense on its toes.
The biggest advantage that the Heat hold over nearly every other team in the league is that they're extremely gifted athletically. The best players on the floor are the most athletic and they're also the top offensive contributors.
What the Heat do to beat teams is to wear them out over the course of the game with Wade and James driving and moving around the court, forcing their opponent's defense to attempt to keep up with them.
By the time the fourth quarter comes around, the opponents are gassed and can't give as much of an effort as they did in previous quarters. This is why the Heat are such a quality fourth-quarter team, because they're able to wear down their opponents, force them into lazy defense and force them into difficult shots because they simply don't have the energy to drive or to put up quality shots.
In Game 2, Miami relied too heavily on the three-point shot and it allowed the Mavericks to take a break from chasing Wade and James around. By getting their energy supply back up, the Heat were able to play stronger defense and find easier ways to score on offense. If Miami wants to prevent any sort of comeback like the one in Game 2, they're going to need to keep pushing and forcing the issue by driving.
Find a Way To Get Chris Bosh Involved
After an extremely productive series against the Chicago Bulls, it seems that Chris Bosh has regressed back to the player that shrunk away from physical play.
In Game 2, Bosh only had 12 points on a dismal 4-of-16 shooting, while only taking four free throws. This came after a Game 1 where he scored 19 points, but also shot abysmally from the field at only 5-of-18. At least in that game he went to the line for 12 free throws, but he still doesn't look like the same player that was abusing Carlos Boozer for the entirety of the conference finals.
Instead, we see Bosh looking tentative and without confidence. He's passing up open shots and not attempting to drive it when Tyson Chandler is draped over him. The Heat need to realize that Wade and James can get going whenever and that Bosh needs to get going early if they want to see a quality offensive performance from him. The coaching staff needs to force the issue of working the ball through Bosh in the early moments to allow his confidence to rise, so that he may be comfortable when taking shots.
Bosh is very capable of leading the team in scoring and Miami needs to give him a chance to prove himself on offense. In the opening minutes, they should feed it to Bosh so that he can attempt to get Chandler into foul trouble, but to also possibly get some early points and use that as momentum the rest of the way.
Allow Dwyane Wade To Take Over
Of the Big Three, only Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have made it to this point of the NBA season. In 2006, Wade led the Heat to their first title in franchise history after averaging 35 points against the Dallas Mavericks. In 2007, James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first Finals appearance, but they were swept, realizing he needed more than Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to win a title.
The Heat haven't had much success against the Mavericks in the regular season over the past few years, but they have when it has counted most and it happened because Dwyane Wade was leading the way. It's already started in this series as Wade scored 22 in Game 1 and then scored 36 in Game 2 before the Heat decided to put him in shackles and allowed LeBron to handle the ball for the majority of the fourth quarter.
The Mavericks have the defensive answers for James with Shawn Marion, they don't for Wade. As good a defender as DeShawn Stevenson has been, he was abused by Wade in the opening minutes and was taken out after being posted up on, scored on and put into foul trouble. The Mavs use Jason Terry as their shooting guard and that is nowhere near a defensive answer for Dwyane Wade. Miami needs to take advantage of this and make Terry into a defensive liability before he becomes an offensive juggernaut.
Wade has been at this stage before and has been successful. He knows how to play Dallas and he knows how to beat them. When it comes down to it, the ball needs to be in his hands because of the advantage he holds over his defender.
Don't Allow Dallas Any Sort of Life
This isn't Philadelphia. It's not Boston and it certainly isn't Chicago. This is the Dallas Mavericks and they're one of the two best teams in basketball. When the Heat were up 88-73 with a little over six minutes remaining, they should have kept their foot on the gas pedal instead of just hoping that time would run out before the Mavericks could stage a significant comeback. That's not the mentality the Heat should have in the NBA Finals—they need to play strong, physical basketball for 48 minutes.
Dallas has staged plenty of comebacks like this before, with a number occurring during the Western Conference finals series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and they proved that they can do it to the best if they find an opening. Miami allowed Dallas to win that game by playing stagnant, isolation offense and weak, physical defense on the other end. To beat a team as good as the Mavericks, you need a consistent effort from every player on the floor for the entire game.
For Miami, we'll call this one a mental lapse. Unless you really are blind, you should know that this Heat team is a lot better than what we saw in the final minutes of Game 2. Miami let its guard down and Dallas is a good enough team to take advantage of it, which it did. With three games in Dallas, the Heat can't let the Mavs or their raucous crowd get into their heads.
Consistency and effort are key. The Heat can rest during what could be a very long offseason.
There's no doubt that this Heat team is excited to be at this point of the season. Dwyane hasn't been here since 2006, LeBron hasn't since 2007 and Bosh hasn't even come close to a conference finals in his career. Eddie House was the most recent player on the Heat to win a championship, in 2008 with Boston, and he barely plays.
To most of this Heat roster, the NBA Finals are a completely new experience and they need to follow through on what they have worked for over the past eight months.
Most importantly, James, Wade and Bosh need to follow through on the promises that they delivered during their preseason celebration in July. They were brought together for the sole purpose of winning championships and now that they are at this point, there is no time to take ease up and allow opposing teams to make monumental comebacks like the one we witnessed in Game 2. There's plenty of time to rest over the offseason, but now isn't the time.
The months of criticism should greatly help these players stay motivated and their mental lapse in Game 2 should provide even more. Miami needs to prove that it is better than this and that it isn't the same team from the regular season. The Heat need to stay motivated, keep pushing teams to the brink and stay the course. They know they're the better team and they need to play like they're the better team if they want to take home this title.