Game 2 Preview: Help And Hope From 'Little 3'
Just as there is for any loss in the playoffs, there is reason for concern, but if you find you're standing in the shadow of a wave waiting to crash down over you, perhaps your hope has turned against you.
"There are no moral victories when you get to this point," Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.
In the loss, there hides no moral victory, no feigned pleasantry to bury the fact that Dallas remains four wins from their unwavering goal while Miami now needs only three to deny them of it. In the Finals, a loss is a loss, the damage is done and cannot be undone, but with the series still in its infancy, could there linger reasons for optimism on the Mavs part?
In a word, yes.
Beyond Shawn Marion, who rebounded from a slow start to provide the most consistent effort of any Dallas player, Brendan Haywood, who proved to be the best big man to see the court on either team, and a solid if unremarkable game from Dirk Nowitzki; few things went right on the offensive end for a group that has easily been the most efficient on that side of the ball this postseason.
Jason Terry prolonged a poor stretch to five consecutive games, going back to Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, in which he is averaging 13 points and shooting 32.2 percent. Though this may represent a worrisome trend, the fact is, Terry's offensive production doesn't get much worse than it did in Game 1 of the Finals when he scored 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting.
JJ Barea appears contained in the boxscore, but the reality is that he was not prevented from penetrating or finding open spaces on the floor. He only missed a handful of shots we've become accustomed to seeing him make, including one or two that were as close to automatic as possible. Much like Terry, this wasn't so much a case of being hogtied by the defense as simply missing looks that have fallen throughout the playoffs and second half of the season.
To put this in perspective, the 12.5 field-goal percentage for Barea in Game 1 of the Finals was his worst of these playoffs, and the worst of the entire season when taking at least eight field-goal attempts. In fact, he only converted a lower percentage of his attempts three times in 97 chances (81 regular-season and 16 postseason games).
Peja Stojakovic hasn't been the model of consistency in the playoffs, but has managed to avoid prolonged slumps (as prolonged as 16 games will allow), and the mere threat he provides has demanded that defenders remain honest. He hasn't had more than one game in any series without draining a 3-pointer, meaning there shouldn't be too many more 0-for-3 games left on the docket, especially if the looks remain clear.
As a group, this trio has provided a scoring punch from the bench no other team in the playoffs has been able to match, making it reasonable to assume their combined 4-of-21 from the field (19 percent) for 14 points in Game 1 may be an anomaly.
For example, raise their conversion rate to a modest 43 percent, include no 3-pointers or free throws -- not a far-fetched notion -- and you're adding 10 points to a team that lost by eight. Clearly, the picture isn't nearly as black-and-white as this portrays, but it's also hard to deny if they had merely been able to perform at an average to slightly-below-average level the game may have taken on a very different feel; maybe not enough to alter the outcome, but enough to at least deny the certainty of it.
JJB, Peja and Jet. Not a "Big 3.'' But a "Little 3'' that must come up bigger.
Beyond the bench's worst scoring production of the postseason, the eye is quickly drawn to the rebounding totals, including the play of Tyson Chandler.
The "heart and soul" of the Mavs defense did not grab a rebound after the intermission, and only found four prior to it. Against a lineup that will consistently allow him to hold several inches on every opponent, that's neither acceptable nor to be expected.
Without Chandler, Dallas doesn't have these problems … because they're watching somebody else have to deal with the Heat from their respective living rooms when tuning in to the broadcast.
There's a reason he's garnered the praise he has, and to why teams will line up to pay him as soon as he hits the open market this summer (whenever that market opens its doors), and a big part of that is due to the fact that he doesn't allow himself to be relegated to afterthought status with regularity.
Game 1 of the Finals marked the first time this postseason Chandler has failed to grab a single offensive board, and matched his low for total rebounds (four, his total in only 14 minutes of Game 3 against Portland). In other words, to expect such a tally again would not be prudent.
There are outside factors, such as his defensive responsibilities, that often pull him from ideal rebounding position as he offers help to teammates or roams the center of the zone, but these are contributors he's dealt with in each of the Mavs 16 playoff games, not to mention the regular season, when Chandler collected four or less rebounds only five times in 74 opportunities.
And of course there is Dirk.
Nowitzki participated in today's shootaround and reported so serious problems with the middle finger on his left hand that has a torn tendon.
"At this point in the season, everybody has bumps and bruises,'' Dirk said. "This is just a bump, and you gotta play through it.''
If he's right, Dirk -- even after shooting 4-of-15 through three quarters in Game 1 before ending up with 27 points -- is the least of Dallas' worries.
None of this is to say that Miami played to their potential. They didn't. But, they held near their averages in most categories outside of total field-goal percentage (a trait far too few are attributing to one of the sparse Dallas bright spots, defense), and exceeded their numbers in others, such as 3-point shooting (45.8 percent compared to 33.5 in the playoffs).
Miami didn't play great, but they were mediocre at worst. Meanwhile, Dallas strayed well beneath what would be considered their norms. Yet, they did not lose by 30 and managed to hang around until the final minutes.
It's impossible to know where this series will go, but personal advisor Peter Griffin just informed me that it is both "shallow and pedantic" to come to final conclusions based on one game, to condemn a Dallas team that kept the game within reach even as their offense refused to find its way. From some of the reactions, you'd believe Miami firmly stomped on everything the Mavs attempted, drowned them into submission with overwhelming domination and ended the best-of-seven series in 48 minutes.
Dallas may look back and find a golden opportunity to steal a road game that was there for the taking much of the night if they'd only been able to live up to their averages, and it is certainly possible that Miami quickly wraps up the series, but to cement that outcome as fact only waiting to unfold tonight starting at 8 (with Fish and the FS Southwest postgame show immediately after the final buzzer) based on Game 1 is awfully premature.
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