A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Aftermath of a Miami-Dallas Game 3 classic: When a 1st quarter matters more than a 4th

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Dwyane Wade playing with the Miami Heat

Dwyane Wade has been the true King in these FInals (Image via Wikipedia)

I loved Game 3 of the Dallas vs Miami NBA Finals. It’s an ESPN classic game in my books. In fact I’m going to be really hyperbolic and call that one of my favorite NBA games of all time. I’ve never had more to say about a game at the least.

So where did Miami trump Dallas in this game? True, they were a little better in the last few minutes and won by a basket. But that’s not really where Miami won and Dallas lost this game. That came in in the 1st quarter.

Dallas started Game 3 playing unbelievably bad defense. It’s one thing for a good offense to find open shots, it’s another for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James (more on them later) to get wide open, uncontested scores/dunks in the paint. My hunch says it all came down to Brendan Haywood’s injury leaving Tyson Chandler worried about fouling early. With intensity and strong close-outs inside the Mavericks title caliber defense momentarily collapsed.

Yes, from the 2nd quarter on Dallas started to play championship caliber defense again, eventually erasing Miami’s 13 point 1st quarter lead to go up 1 midway through the 3rd and be tied in the final minutes of the 4th. That does not mean the poor 1st is meaningless: Far from it. Dallas had to outplay Miami to make the game even again. With better defense in the 1st quarter, outplaying Miami means a big lead. Without a disastrous start, that 15-2 run in the 3rd quarter might make a 13 point lead instead of erasing it.

Secondly, by allowing Miami to start so well, it more or less became the Heat’s game to own and to win or lose. All sense of control of the series by Dallas gained by the Game 2 comeback and taken homecourt advantage was eliminated as soon as the Mavericks were put in a catchup position. In a way, the 1st quarter of Game 3 gave the Heat ownership of the series again.

Thirdly, with Dallas so much comes down to the minutes Dirk Nowitzki is on the floor and off. Because they are likely to be outscored when he’s off, they have to make the minutes when he’s on count. If you fall down 13 with him playing in the 1st, you might have to beat the Heat by 20 in the rest of his minutes to make up for a 7 point punch you take during his rest. That’s a lot to ask. This came up in the 3rd quarter, when the Mavericks went on their 15-2 run to make the game 59-58. But Dirk had to sit for the last few minutes of the 3rd in order to play the entire 4th quarter. This was the right move but also sapped their momentum and took away their ability to stretch a lead. Miami quickly regained a 6 point lead and control of the game, going into the 4th up 3 and holding a 3-5 point cushion most of the rest of the game. The Mavericks could make up 13 points, but they couldn’t make up 13 points and the additional punishment of the 15 minutes Dirk had to sit.

Beating a team as physically talented as Miami is a herculean feat. The Mavericks are a man trying to outwrestle a grizzly bear. For Dallas to win this series they had to be on point every possession and never, ever take their foot off the gas pedal, or else the bear would be on top of them claws ready. I believe they let up defensively at the start of Game 3 and it may cost them a chance at this title.

A few other thoughts from this great game:

–  What more can you say about Dwyane Wade? He is a king and a true all-time great. This is his 2nd Finals in a row where he’s morphed in a giant ball of fire. For me Wade played the first quarter of that game on a different level of intensity and focus than his Heat teammates and it completley negated the Mavericks’ homecourt advantage. If the Heat win this series, I believe it’ll come down to those 6 minutes as the turning point. Then he carried them in the 4th again. At times Dirk vs Wade in this game felt like the famous Bird vs Dominique duel in their 1988 conference semifinals. Two great players and fighters.

– On the other hand, I was not impressed by LeBron James at all. No, he was not bad statistically. He made plays for teammates. But in this game Wade was Rocky and Lebron was the guy stitching him up in the corner. Perhaps trying to take over in Game 2 and failing made him feel to let Wade take over. But I didn’t see the killer instinct, I didn’t see him pressuring the Mavericks, I didn’t see the desire. He scored 8 points in the 1st when Dallas opened a red carpet for him and Wade to dunk, then scored 9 points the rest of the game to end with 17, mostly on jumpshots. He was invisible. In fact despite better stats, his lack of pressure to create reminded me a lot of his Game 5 against Boston last year. When people talk about what separates Lebron from Michael Jordan, it’s games like this. Jordan, like Wade and Dirk in this game, was the ultimate prizefighter stepping in the ring. This was not a prizefighter game for Lebron. He showed signs of Jordan closing out the Bulls and Celtics – But in this game, perhaps the biggest of his career so far, he was one step above a no show for me. This was more like one of Wilt Chamberlain’s famously invisible playoff collapses.

–  Miami winning the game masked what would’ve been an all-time bad call, with Shawn Marion first hip-bumping and then hitting Lebron’s hand on his 3 point attempt and not getting called for the foul. Karma was on the Heat’s side tonight.

–   Chris Bosh’s massively huge shot saved what was otherwise an atrociously soft performance. It’s very clear he has been overwhelmed by the moment the last 2 games. It’s also probably a good sign that Miami is still up 2-1 despite that. If Bosh shows up offensively at some point in this series it might be lights out for the Mavericks. Also on the topic of Bosh and soft, is there any more embarrasing moment these playoffs than Bosh getting knicked in the eye and going down like his knee got blown out? When I first saw the replay I thought “oh no, he went down without getting hit. That’s a terrible sign, blown knee?” Nah, he got poked in the eye. That was sad, Chris Bosh.

–  Mario Chalmers is a gamer. He has now hit 8 3s in this series on 19 attempts (42%), and all 8 have been like a hammer cracking the Mavericks’ skull. The guy has been ready to go from the start. A phenomenal pickup by the Heat in the 2nd round a few years ago.

–   This is why relying on JJ Barea and Jason Terry is a tough game. They’ve done a great job moving the ball and getting open – They’ve just missed their shots, as has Kidd from 3. These guys have always been hot and cold players due to their small stature at the PG and SG positions.  Energy scorers giveth and energy scorers taketh away. This is why you need players who create shots at the rim through drives or post ups. They’re just more reliable. I would give Barea less minutes at this point though and maybe play some Terry-Stevenson when Kidd is on the bench. I like Stevenson in this series both because he’s defensively responsible and because he’s clearly one of those types who thinks he’s better than he is, in a good way. When Stevenson puts up a 3 I’m not worried about his confidence level taking it.

–   If Caron Butler is 100% and the Mavericks are just not playing him because of chemistry issues, this would be a good time to roll the dice. Before the Finals I was in the “Don’t play him, don’t mess with the ball movement” camp with Butler. But I see two major issues his presence could fix. One, Dallas is a mess offensively without Dirk. If you play Butler only when Dirk sits, there’s not much of an offense to screw up – and the upside of adding a go to scorer in that lineup is large. Secondly, Peja is useless in this series. He’s not hitting anything and having him try to guard Lebron or Wade on a switch is a bad joke. Sometimes you have to roll a hard 6. Dallas is at a talent disadvantage in this series and needs to pull out all the stops, needs to take the risk. I give Butler 10-15 minutes next game and see what happens, if he’s truly ready to go. Now is the time.

–   The Mavericks really, really, really, really need Brendan Haywood to be healthy next game. Ian Manhimni was a walking foul machine and as mentioned, the last thing the Mavericks need to start next game is Chandler being scared to foul again. They need the twin towers back.

Overall, I think most of us always believed Miami would win 1 of the 3 games in Dallas. They’re simply too tough to beat 3 times in a row and beat in 5 games overall. But Dallas dropping the first game of their homestand makes their job much tougher. Do or die, they have to win the next 2 and now 3 of 4 overall. I just don’t know if you can dominate Miami in a 4 game stretch like that. They’re too hard to get even an inch on. I believe Dallas took their foot off the pedal just for a moment to start Game 3 and that might be it for them. When you’re wrestling a grizzly bear, it’s probably not going to end well if he gets on top of you. That’s where Dallas is right now after in my opinion. They took their foot off the gaspedal defensively for a moment in the 1st quarter of Game 3 and against Miami you just don’t have that margin of error. This was the title swing game for me.

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  1. […] Aftermath of a Miami-Dallas Game 3 classic: When a 1st quarter matters more than a 4th (asubstituteforwar.com) […]

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