Game 1 All-Access: Mavs Offense Goes South
FOREWARD: Game 1 of the NBA Finals is in the books, and we learned one thing with certainty: Shawn Marion cannot beat the Miami Heat alone, as the Mavs fell by the score of 92-84 with little going as planned outside of ‘Trix's fine two-way play.
Marion was the best player wearing a Dallas Mavericks uniform when considering the game in its entirety. Dirk Nowitzki wasn't exactly bad, but was not at the level we've become accustomed to this postseason. Brendan Haywood was the only bench player to show up. And, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- after needing a moment to warm to the glow of the spotlight -- combined to hit 51.4 percent of their shots, including 6-of-9 (66.7 percent) behind the arc.
Take those thoughts in, let them soak in for a moment, and there is a sliver of positivity to be found. If you'd been told those facts prior to seeing the score, would you have believed the Mavs only lost by eight and were well within reach deep into the fourth quarter?
If you answer honestly, the answer is no.
We're dealing in "slivers,'' here. We know. But we're buoyant kinda guys.
THE TOP STORY: The injury to Dirk, the crummy bench and the inability to close.
We'll begin with the injury to Dirk's left hand, where he stated he tore a tendon in the middle finger of his left, non-shooting hand.
"Well, it was just a freaky play," Dirk said. "Bosh got a bounce pass, I stepped in, thought I stripped him clean, and then I kind of looked down, I couldn't straighten my finger out anymore. So, I tore a tendon in there, but I guess it will be all right. I got to wear a splint, and probably for the rest of the playoffs for a couple weeks, but I'll be all right, it's on my left hand so I'll be alright for Thursday."
He verified that he had an x-ray that showed that nothing was broken, but the tendon was torn in his left middle finger.
The injury appears to have taken place with 3:44 to play when Dirk was called for a foul as he stripped Chris Bosh of the ball. If you're looking for how this may affect The Uberman's play, it did not appear to slow him down in the final minutes of the game.
From that moment on, he went 1-of-2 from the floor and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line. It's worth monitoring, but the fact that it is on his left hand is a positive. Dirk won't be using this as an excuse, and until we see evidence to contradict that point of view, neither will we.
Dirk is high-usage. The offense goes through him. He dribbles left. He passes with both. He finishes with both. This is not a non-story just because The UberMan is taping an aspirin to it.
THE NBA GAME HIGHLIGHTS: Go ahead and endure 'em.
THE BENCH; AN ASSUMED STRENGTH WAS ANYTHING BUT: Coming into the series, one of the biggest advantages Dallas was thought to have on this Miami team, essentially made up of two superstars, one star and not a whole lot more, was the strength of the bench.
The Mavs' bench entered the Finals averaging 39.4 points per game. They finished Game 1 with 17 points on an incredibly inefficient 18.2 field-goal percentage. Outside of Brendan Haywood, who had a active game (it appears he might be able to do to Bosh what he did to Aldridge and Bynum before), the bench was vastly outplayed.
Jason Terry has had a strong postseason, but when we put Jet under The Mikeroscope (Mike Fisher and Michael Dugat! Get it? Aw, never mind) we see he really hasn't had a complete performance since Game 1 of the Oklahoma City series.
In the last five games (the final four against OKC and this game) Terry is averaging 13 points, hitting only 32.2 percent of his shots from the floor and giving away as many assists as turnovers (1.8 of each).
Looking at only Game 1 of the Finals, Terry was 3-of-10 on his shots for 12 points and had the same number of assists and turnovers (1), and didn't score a point in the second half.
Much like the previous four contests, this has been the epitome of "bad" Terry.
He's made poor decisions on offense, from taking bad shots, to missing open teammates, to forcing bad passes; he's been far from what you need your second best offensive option to be. Though he isn't the defensive liability that Peja Stojakovic is, if his shots aren't falling, he leads the unraveling of the bench's success.
Our suggestion to Jet: Changes your shorts. Nothing good can come from wearing Miami Heat knickers to bed.
Speaking of Peja, there is no player for who shooting percentage is the singular measure. He may get the occasional steal (he had two here) and he may fit somehow into this team's zone defense. But there's little denying the fact that he is not one of the Mavs' better defensive players … to be blunt, he may be the worst defender Dallas puts on the floor.
Given this, he absolutely must hit his shots, not go 0-of-3 for zero points.
With the speed the Heat defense is able to close on shooters -- the Heat wings in particular rotated with a certain ferocity, and also ran 3-point marksmen off the line late in the game -- the space Peja grants his teammates with the mere threat of his shot is lessened. But it doesn't have to be. If his attempts start to fall, things can quickly change …
Indeed, we'll want to go back and see film to verify our impressions of Miami's defensive movement. If Dallas, and Peja, don't miss a fair amount of wide-open looks, how stellar do Miami's rotations seem then?
JJ Barea continued to do what we've come accustomed to seeing in these playoffs, and tore through the defense to get into the paint with relative consistency. So, what changed?
The shots simply weren't falling.
Much like the rest of the Mavs, who hit only 12-of-31 shots in the paint, JJB was missing lay ups and easy attempts.
Call it the pressure of the moment, a bad game, or a fluke ... Dirk seems to think JJB "rushed his shots'' ... but it can't continue to happen if the Mavs hope to come out on top. Barea isn't so essential that Miami is going to create a defensive assignment of LeBron for him (did people actually belive that?!); but he is Dallas' only natural penetrator. And furthermore, when Kidd is out of the game, JJB plays and must penetrate to keep Dallas at all afloat.
The lone bright spot from the Mavs' subs came in the form of Brendan Haywood. In only 14:13 of playing time, he exploited his size advantage and grabbed seven rebounds, blocked three shots, and scored three points (all from the free-throw line, where he was 3-of-6).
There was the brief imitation of Ron Artest, when he allowed the rim to deny an open dunk attempt – a microcosm of the team's interior struggles on offense -- but Haywood was easily the best the bench had to offer. He was active, played strong defense, and was a few free throws away from being strong in every aspect of his game.
Big Wood has been more than respectable for the entire playoffs, and this comment isn't meant to belittle what he's accomplished, but if he's your second leading scorer from the bench, that's not a good sign for the Mavericks … especially when you note he had only three points.
Worth repeating: Big Wood can guard Bosh. Stash that away for Game 2 on Thursday.
The final numbers: Miami's bench outscored the Mavs counterpart 27-to-17, and Mario Chalmers matched the production of Jason Terry, each scored 12 points … and what was thought to be a clear advantage fell far short of expectations.
And this is where strategy and execution combine with performance: Chalmers made those shots. They count. They are real. But to our eyes, his work in the corner also came as a result of Dallas' defense failing to find him, an inexcusable breakdown in execution at this late stage.
THE BRIGHT SPOT: Shawn Marion was the Player of the Game for Dallas. (No, he doesn't get a "Dirkie.'' That golden statuette is only presented in victory.) 'Trix led the team in rebounds with 10, was second in assists with four, and second to Dirk's 27 in scoring with 16, and also added a block and a steal.
Oh, and he did game summary, too.
I mean, you hold a team to 38 percent and 92 points, for us that's usually a victory,'' he said. "To score 84 points is very rare for us. To get 67 shots, even to shoot 37 percent. Most times we shoot 37 percent from the field, the other team is going to shoot lower than that. It was about equal, and we only were able to score 84 points."
With so little going right, Marion stood out as an oasis of effectiveness. On more than a few occasions, he was seen soaring into a crowd to snag rebounds, was Dallas' most pressing defender, and once again displayed a nice post-up game that Miami had little answer for.
Unfortunately, outside of Haywood, it's hard to say he had much help. Sure, Dirk had his moments (27 points, 7-of-18 field goals, 1-of-2 3-pointers, eight rebounds), and tried to be aggressive down the stretch, though it felt as though he had far too few chances to have the offense run through him, but the Mavs need more than Marion, Haywood and a sprinkle of Dirk to emerge victorious from this series.
Marion, by the way, is of the opinion that Dallas got bogged down in "called sets'' and didn't run enough "flow'' offense. 'Trix has a way of delivering a biting opinion softly, you know ... We're going to trust Kidd and Carlisle and the coaches to ruminate together on this concept. ...
And another 'Trix note, or actually, a 'Trix/DeSteve note: This surprised the ABC crew guys Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy, but it didn't surprise DB.com's Coach Fain, who correctly noted that the two defenders are interchangeable in the way they might guard Wade and LeBron, and that forced switches wouldn't be an issue.
Score one for Coach Fain.
THE FLAWED SPOT: This was not one of Tyson Chandler's better games. Considering the lack of size in the Heat's frontcourt (the fear of which led to Erick Dampier being activated for the first time this postseason, though he would not see the court), you would expect more of Chandler.
It wasn't the scoring; he had nine points that included two big alley-oops. No, his work on the glass left much to be desired. We understand that his defensive rotations may remove him from ideal rebound positioning at times, but that can only forgive so much. We also understand that a zone defense creates put-a-body-on-a-body problems, but again ... these are issues Dallas needs to have mastered by now.
To put it in context, Haywood played less than half the minutes of Chandler (14 to 34 minutes respectively), but almost doubled his production on the boards, 7-to-4 … including the fact that Haywood had two offensive rebounds to zero for Tyson.
As a team, Miami outrebounded Dallas 46-to-36, and a whopping 16-to-6 at the offensive end. As much as anything else, this helped the Heat to 13 more shot attempts than the Mavs … in a close game, these extra shots quickly become deadly.
COUPLE OF STATS THAT STAND OUT: We love to crunch numbers ...
*In the playoffs, Dallas ranks second in assists per game while the Heat rank 15th. Totals for Game 1: Miami with 20 assists. Dallas with 18.
*Miami has hit 32 percent of their 3-point tries in the postseason. They converted 45.8 percent in Game 1.
*Dallas had four turnovers in the first quarter, and only seven over the final three.
*The Heat are now 9-0 at home in the postseason.
*The Mavs five-game road winning streak ended.
*The 37.3 percent Dallas shot from the floor was their worst in a playoff game this season.
*Regular season DOES matter, but ... Outside of the 2006 NBA Finals and this Game 1, Dallas has beaten Miami 14 straight times. In the regular season.
PRESS CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS:Wade, Dirk, LeBron and Marion take their turns ...
MAVSELLANEOUS: Regular-season success against the Heat aside, this is Dallas' fifth straight loss to Miami in Finals games ... Dallas' 17-16 lead after the first quarter is the lowest two-team output in the first quarter of Game 1 of a Finals in the shot-clock era ... The Mavs led 17-16 after one,and 44-43 at halftime. Miami, though, is 5-0 in this postseason when trailing at intermission ... Terry was 3-of-3 on first-half treys but never scored again ... Man, when Kidd isn't on the floor, is there ever a lack of "valuing the ball.'' Rick said Miami was "more opportunistic than we were.'' But along with 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. ... Before we blame the likes of supporting cast members Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic and JJ Barea (combining to shoot 4-of-21) let's be fair enough to note that through three quarters, Dirk was shooting 4-of-15. ... Mike Miller left the arena with his shoulder in a sling. Also his hair in a bun and a touch of makeup on his Adam's apple. ... We're seeing some "experts'' insist Dallas needs to run more. Can't run much if you only pull down 36 rebounds, guys.
THEY ARE TERRIFIC ...: But they are mortal. Wade was 3-of-10 in the first half. Bosh was an inefficient 5-of-18 for the game. And the Marion/D-Steve combo forced LeBron into early fade-away jumpers.
But James eventually totaled 24 and Wade scored 22. "They are two of the best closers in the game,'' Dirk said ... but they are mortal.
In fact, we'll be more specific.
James is a worse 3-point guy than the league average. He's 33 percent, the NBA is 36. But here he's 4-for-5 from the arc -- really, shooting the shot Dallas would want him to shoot.
More fadeaway 3's from LeBron, please. He's mortal.
THE FINAL WORD: Has the sky turned black, been ravaged by a growing web of cracks, and begun to rain down jagged splinters upon us? To be as concise as possible: No.
To be twice as expressive: Hell no.
A lot of things went wrong for Dallas, particularly at the offensive end, where shots we're used to seeing converting fell astray. Again, this isn't to diminish the defensive abilities of this Miami team, but the Mavs found more than their share of good looks.
Considering their play all season, and throughout these playoffs, one would have to assume if the looks continue to come, the makes must soon follow … right?
Yet, even with all that went wrong, this was a game still undecided late into the fourth quarter, as the Mavs were within four points with 3:58 to play. Miami would close the game out strong, as Dallas continued to struggle offensively, but the game was there for the taking most of the night.
If the Mavs can shoot better than the 37.3 percent they did here, can hit open 3-point attempts, convert makeable layups, and simply hit the shots they've more than proven capable of making, this game likely has a completely different feel.
This is a loss, and an opportunity left on the table, but it's not the end of the series. In the Finals, or the playoffs as a whole, oceans can seem to shift in increments of 48 minutes, but there's nothing here to say Dallas can't compete and win against this team.
The Mavs did not play to the peak of their powers only to come up short to a team who proved to have an extra step, to stroll a higher plain. They played poorly on offense, but managed to hang around with tough defense.
There's no reason to believe this series is over. (Yes, yes, we know that Game 1 winners have gone on to win 11 of the last 14 NBA Finals and that the percentage of 78.6 is the same for Game 1 winners in all playoff series in the last 15 years. Pipe down.) On Thursday another chance will present itself, and if Dallas can get more from their bench, more from Tyson Chandler, more from Dirk Nowitzki, more from Jason Terry … none of which seems implausible … the oceans will shift once more, and we'll be discussing how Dallas was able to steal home-court advantage.
"We're a veteran team," said Nowitzki. "You can't get down with a loss.''
Worth remembering: Dallas won the Western Conference title and didn't get "too up'' with a win, either.
Go ahead, Dirk ...
"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."