Running notes from Jonathan Gault during Miami's dramatic Game Three victory. Winning 88-86, the Heat now hold a 2-1 lead in the series.
Both teams have started well, combining to make nine of the first fourteen shots of the game. No one has looked better than Dwyane Wade, who’s made three tough driving layups in the first four minutes, all under heavy pressure from several Dallas defenders. Wade’s brilliance is difficult to contain, but the silver lining for the Mavs is that they’re making him work for his points.
Well, after saying that, controlling the paint has been a problem for Dallas the remainder of the quarter. The Mavs have largely given up trying to stay in front of Wade and LeBron James. Chris Bosh just bullies Peja Stojakovic and drives right through him for a layup at 4:03, drawing a foul as he goes. Bosh’s free throw ties the score at 18. A look at Miami’s shot chart at the end of the period shows too many shots under the rim to count. The area under Dallas’ rim is unsettlingly clear, with just one shot attempt inside the restricted zone.
A 35-foot running jump shot at the buzzer gives Miami a 29-22 lead after one. Miami’s up in rebounds (11-8) and offensive boards (3-1) as well, and this area goes hand-in-hand with limiting access to the paint. If Dallas can’t improve in these areas, they’re going to lose, no matter how well they execute their offense, because limiting possessions and keeping teams out of the paint are the hallmarks of crunch-time defense.
Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki demonstrate a great way to beat the Miami defense at 9:06. Terry grabs the rebound from a missed Chris Bosh jumper and immediately feeds a streaking Dirk, who’s matched up one-on-one with James. Dirk pulls a nice face and is able to maneuver his way in for a layup to cut Miami’s lead to 34-26. Attacking Miami before they get a chance to set their defense is the easiest way for the Mavs to score, even if it takes them out of their normal offense, which is dependent on cross-court passes to find the open man.
They did it at the end of Game 2, and it happens again in Game 3. Miami led 45-31 with 2:50 to go, yet Dallas goes on an 11-2 run to close out the half, making it anyone’s game heading. You change that to an 11-2 run in the other direction, and it’s game over. Instead, Miami leads 47-42 after 24 minutes.
Dwyane Wade has been phenomenal for most of this series, and he’s the best player on the floor in the first half of Game 3. Teammates have found him on the break after Dallas turnovers, and Wade has made the Mavs pay, consistently converting them into dunks. He hasn’t faced much resistance getting to the rim since the early going, and he finishes the half with 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting. Of those 13 shots, one was a half-court three at the second quarter buzzer and one was a made three-pointer. Every other shot has been either a layup or a dunk.
After a hot start offensively, both teams cool off in the second, with the Heat shooting just 5-of-18 from the field and the Mavs a hair better at 6-of-19. Both teams have been looking to get inside, and when they haven’t been able to do that, the results are contested shots from outside near the end of the shot clock.
Jason Kidd has been impressive tonight, scoring six points so far to go with five assists and four rebounds. He uses a veteran move towards the end of the period to get Jason Terry and open look from ten feet, and with just 3.4 seconds to play in the period, wisely ball-fakes Wade to draw two free throws. Kidd’s savvy and creativity is something that the Heat just don’t get from Mario Chalmers.
Midway through the third, and we’ve yet to see both teams playing well at the same time tonight. Miami controlled most of the first half before Dallas ended the half on an 11-2 run. Miami then opened the second half on an 8-0 run, only to be followed by a 15-2 run from the Mavs to bring it back to 57-57 with 4:36 to go. It’s not that the game hasn’t been entertaining, but you like to see teams going at it back-and-forth instead of watching the teams trade stretches of dominance.
Shawn Marion’s been very effective defending LeBron James so far tonight. James still has 12 points through two-and-a-half quarters, but he’s shot just 4-for-10 from the field. More importantly, Marion hasn’t allowed the Miami offense to flow through James, which is great for Dallas now that Wade isn’t eating them up anymore.
The Heat end the third up 67-64. Both teams have been super-competitive in the third, so no coach can fault their guys for lack of effort. Neither team can afford to let up though, because as we’ve seen in the past two games, both teams are capable of putting together a 9-0 run just like that.
The benches have been critical late in the game, and after JJ Barea hits a jumper at 9:41 to tie the game at 72, Dallas’ bench has 12 of the team’s last 15 points. Dallas’ bench has outscored the Heat’s 25-14 thus far. While they’ll never carry you for an entire game, guys like Barea can still have an impact even if they get hot for only a few minutes.
Mario Chalmers responds with a three, his fourth of the game, to cap a quick 7-0 run and put Miami ahead 79-72 with 7:18 to go. Chalmers has been quietly effective for Miami in this series, and his three-point shooting has served notice that, while they lack Dallas’ depth, you can’t entirely dismiss the Heat’s bench.
For the second possession in a row, Miami commits a loose-ball foul on Dirk Nowitzki while battling for a rebound at 3:03. Dirk sinks both freebies to make it 84-82, Miami. Both calls were questionable, but it’s still unacceptable from the Heat; they need to be playing under control. The Heat have to force the Mavs to beat them through execution; they can’t afford to give away what amounts to a guaranteed two points by sending Dirk to the line.
Watching Dirk work down the stretch is truly a gift for the neutral basketball fan. Dirk had the Mavs’ last 12 points and looked fantastic until their last two possessions. With 30 seconds to go and the Mavs down two, a bad pass from Dirk results in a turnover, allowing Miami to take the game clock all the way down to four seconds. Then, on the game’s final possession, Dirk can’t quite find the basket as his potential game-tyer clanks off the back rim to give Miami the 88-86 victory. You can’t fault Dirk too
much though; he WAS the Mavs’ offense down the stretch in both Games 2 and 3, and Udonis Haslem played him perfectly in the final shot, making it very difficult for Nowitzki to get a good look.
This has been a tremendously hard-fought series, and while it doesn’t quite have the intensity of Lakers-Celtics from a year ago, Games 1-3 have been about as good as you can ask for from an entertainment standpoint. Games 2 and 3 were both decided in the final seconds, and Game 1 was close throughout before Miami pulled away.
Dallas’ defense down the stretch was remarkable. Look at Miami’s possessions over the final 6:31: James contested 3-pointer (miss), Bosh 16-footer (make), shot clock violation, Wade 20-footer (make), shot clock violation, Bosh 19-footer (miss), steal, Wade 3-pointer (make), James double-dribble. Unfortunately, the Mavs’ defense in the first quarter was atrocious, repeatedly allowing Wade and James to score in the paint. Points in the first count just as much as points in the fourth; Dallas needs to figure out a way to prevent penetration earlier. In many cases in the first quarter tonight, it was a lack of help defense or a failure to follow the ballhandler. Those sorts of mental lapses are simply unacceptable in the Finals.
Similarly Dirk needs to be more of a threat for the entire game. His performances in the past two fourth quarters have been exceptional, but they account for two of the eight quarters from Games 2 and 3. I have to give Dirk credit, though, for his free-throw shooting. He’s so good at the line that people automatically assume he’s going to make every free throw he takes. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how difficult that really is. He’s shooting 94% for the playoffs (tops among those with at least 30 attempts), and hasn’t missed a free throw since Game 4 of the Thunder series. In fact, he’s made 90 of his last 93 dating back to Game 5 of Mavs’ first round series against Portland. Considering the stakes, what he’s done over the past few months has to rank among one of the best FT shooting performances ever.
James might have outplayed him in the first three rounds, but the MVP of this series so far has been Dwyane Wade, no doubt about it. Wade was clearly the Heat’s leader on the floor tonight, with a team-high 29 points and an even more impressive 11 rebounds (tied for the game-high). LeBron has had a couple sub-par (for him) games in this series, but if Wade’s going like he has been the last few nights, Miami doesn’t need much more in order to win.
Game 4, like Game 2, is going to be crucial for Dallas. Winning three games in a row against this Heat game is hard enough; taking the last two in Miami will be near impossible. Realistically, Dallas needs to win both Games 4 and 5 for them to have a chance in this series.