Heat 92, Mavs 84 In G1: First Impressions
Jason Kidd has developed a ritual this postseason, one that begins anew every time the Dallas Mavericks start a playoff series: The point guard legend shaves his head and face clean … and then as the series progresses, he becomes increasingly hirsute, and by the end of the three series so far, he ends up looking a grizzled hunter.
After a disappointingly grueling 92-84 Mavs loss at Miami in Tuesday's Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Dallas is still hoping to hang around long enough to sprout some whiskers. ... to do some more hunting.
"This,'' Kidd said quietly in the postgame locker room, "is over with.''
He's talking about Game 1. Not the series.
Tuesday's loss marks the first 0-1 deficit Dallas has faced this postseason, and there is more adversity, too: Superstar Dirk Nowitzki, the unofficial MVP of the playoffs before Tuesday, sustained a torn tendon in the middle finger of his left hand in the final minutes of the game. He downplayed the seriousness of the injury, noting that X-rays showed no break, and assured everyone that he'd be ready for Game 2 on Thursday.
"I have to wear a splint, probably, for the rest of the playoffs, for a couple of weeks,'' he said.
Dr. LeBron James even chimed in, utilizing the medical degree he obtained while playing high-school basketball, citing the fact that Dirk is "right-handed'' as the reason this is a non-story.
But Nowitzki is, of course, an ambidextrous weapon, a high-usage centerpiece of the Dallas attack, and vulnerable now should the Heat decide to hack away at his fragile wing. Besides, an imperfect UberMan makes for a flawed Dallas offense – and that was the case even before the late-game injury. Through three quarters, the Mavs were just behind 65-61 (and the deficit was only that large because of LeBron's stunning fadeaway 3 to end the period). Nowitzki, however, was shooting 4-of-15 to that point. He got precious little help from his supporting cast (Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic and JJ Barea combined to shoot 4-of-21) and the Mavs were limited to paltry 37-percent shooting for the game.
"It was a grind,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Mavs defense played its part in that grind, forcing James and Dwyane Wade into becoming jumpshooters, at least in the early going. But James eventually totaled 24, Wade scored 22 and Chris Bosh contributed 19. With Dallas only countering with Dirk's 27, the Mavericks franchise that is so haunted by the 2006 Finals loss to this same Heat franchise is now down in the best-of-seven series.
Game 1 winners have gone on to win 11 of the last 14 NBA Finals. That percentage (78.6) is the same for Game 1 winners in all playoff series in the last 15 years. We can pretend to ignore that ... while at the same time admitting that had Dallas won Game 1, we'd be printing up "78.6 Percent'' bumperstickers.
The Mavs were gracious and analytical in answering postgame questions about their failures … and offered an assortment of viable explanations.
*"Shots are going to be hard to come by," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. Ah, but not for Miami, which attempted 80 to Dallas' 67, and you are not going to win often when the other team takes 13 more attempts than you.
*We didn't secure rebounds,'' Mavericks center Tyson Chandler said. And that is so; Dallas was outrebounded 46-36 and allowed 16 Heat offensive rebounds. But that is a frequent Mavs blemish (especially when they play zone, an issue that every middle-school hoopster understands) and one overcome by the club's attributes.
*"They were more opportunistic than we were," Carlisle said. I might argue that Miami valued the possessions more; the Mavs gave up chances with a kooky foul (Terry), sloppy ball recovery (Barea), an unnecessary illegal screen (Tyson Chandler), a behind-the-back dribble in traffic (Shawn Marion) …and on and on.
*Marion, for one, was salty on both ends of the floor, taking on the Wade/LeBron challenge defensively while 16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. 'Trix -- who has a way of offering biting commentary in a subtle package -- was also a bit salty in the postgame visit, insisting that "That's not us'' and suggesting that maybe Dallas was "calling too many (plays). … But we've got plenty of firepower. We just can't shoot 37 percent and score 84 points.''
Too much direction from the bench and not enough "flow''?
Carlisle and others talked of the adjustments Dallas will make for Game 2, but I will argue that the gameplan was sound. Dirk got inside early but missed a handful of points-in-the-paint chances. When he was double-teamed, he fairly crisply kicked outside. Kidd also participated in the inside-out game, setting up in the low post and setting up teammates stationed at the arc. Penetrators Barea and Jet did some of the same.
But the kick-outs – as well-conceived as they were – didn't pay off for players like Peja (0-3 from the arc) or Terry (who was 3-of-3 on first-half treys but never scored again). Too bad, because it wasted an opportunity to match the likes of Wade while he was struggling (3-of-10 in the first half) and Bosh (an inefficient 5-of-18.
Oh, if only LeBron doesn't make that unlikely 3 to end the third … and the one before that … and the one before that, as he was 3-of-3 from the arc in the period to help his team recover from a 7-0 run and an eight-point lead owned by Dallas at the start of the half.
The Mavs led 17-16 after one,and 44-43 at halftime. Maybe that's enough to remind all invited that this isn't "David and Goliath'' here … let alone "David and Two Goliaths.''
"They have two very good closers, two of the best in the game,'' said Dirk respectfully, but then focusing on his own club.
''We're a veteran team,'' said Nowitzki. ''You can't get down with a loss. You've got to come back strong on Thursday. I've said it a couple times in this playoff run: If you're the road team, you're happy with a split. So we've got another opportunity on Thursday to get one. Obviously, we don't want to go home down 0-2.''
He's talking about Game 2. AND he's talking about the series.