Friday, June 09, 2006

Evaluating Game 1

What the Heat did well:
Came out to an explosive start, trashing Dallas in the opening quarter.
Frustrated Nowitzki.  Don’t buy the “I was nervous” excuse from my MVP pick.  Riley wisely did not allow Walker to guard him, instead using Posey, Haslem, or zones.  The zone coverage allowed Miami to crowd and fluster Dirk even on the perimeter and stymying his drives to the middle.  They also made sure that the rim would be very unwelcoming, punctuated by Shaq’s elbow to his jaw.  Dirk became a force this postseason by focusing on getting inside to compliment his jumpers, Miami has made it a priority to not allow him to do so.
Neutralized Howard.  Similarly done by crowding the lanes.

How the Heat failed:
Look tired and lethargic by the end of the second quarter on, especially O’Neal.  Once they lost their legs, Dallas was able to start attacking and running.
Lost control of Antoine Walker on offense.  Like he’s done his whole career, Employee #8 went buckwild as soon as he saw Miami falling behind.  With Shaq and Wade struggling in the second half, Walker began to run-and-machine gun, missing as many shots as Shaq took in the entire game, including 6 errant threes to match his 6 turnovers.  Miami rarely plays as a team, but they’re at their worst when Payton, Walker, and Williams go on shooting sprees instead of re-establishing Shaq.
Allowed Jason Terry to rip them apart.  Miami has had abysmal defense on opposing guards that can penetrate throughout the playoffs, so they have to recognize that this leak must be plugged.  Jason Williams and Gary Payton will be swinging doors, so it’s on the others to provide help.  Walker all too often gets lost, especially in zones, Posey and Haslem can’t leave Dirk alone, but Wade and Mourning can be very effective at cutting off Terry’s lanes.  If Shaq could regain a step, this would all be moot.  

What the Mavs need to fix:
It’s fairly obvious that they need Dirk and Howard in order to take the trophy.  Avery needs to free Dirk up by running him through screens to shake free of his man coverage and press him to shoot from the outside whenever Miami sags into a zone (where Nowitzki hit his two 3-pointers).  Howard needs to pick his spots better and not just foolishly challenge Miami at the rim.  
Whenever Shaq begins to tire, go to a run-focused small ball lineup.  The Heat struggled in transition after the first quarter and don’t have the bench to keep their legs fresh.

Why the Mavs won:
Jason Terry pressing his advantage over Miami’s defenseless points.
Effectively using a zone to dissuade the Heat from sticking with the post.  They made it difficult for O’Neal to receive the ball and, even better, baited the Heat’s machine gunners to fire away from the outside.  The Heat hit a terrible 5-20 from the outside while Shaq managed only 12 attempts.  
Used a team approach to seal the rim from Wade.  The Mavs relied on its quickness and help defense to rotate on his drives.  When Wade adjusted and went with jumpers, he became containable.  

Looking forward:
The number one thing the Heat must do in the next game is re-emphasize Shaquille O’Neal in their offense.  Shaq likewise has to play with enough energy to merit that gameplan.  Dallas is simply not equipped to stop him or Wade with regularity, but when Walker starts firing recklessly it gives them a free pass.
Miami only needs to take one game in Dallas to put tremendous pressure on the Mavericks.  The NBA’s 2-3-2 format makes it extremely difficult for the team with homecourt to maintain momentum.
The ultimate question is, can Riley nail down the collection of individuals on his roster and get them on the same page?  Dallas has really unified as a team, the common denominator among all championship teams.  If Miami continues to try and win with players pulling in multiple directions, they’ll be done in six.  


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