Tag:Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Posted on: May 29, 2011 10:31 pm

The Blueprint: Dallas Mavericks

Posted by Matt Moore

How the Mavericks' ideal strategic approach looks against the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals

So you want to beat the Heat. : The Mavericks overall strategic design starts on offense. The Mavericks' defense knows that the elements of the Heat are pretty simple. All you have to do is stop LeBron James, Dywane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Easy! If the Mavericks are going to hang they're going to have to do it the way they have all postseason. By scoring, consistently, efficiently, and with guile and accuity as opposed to brute force.

Now, It's Nowitzki: It starts with Dirk, naturally. You know what the best part of having a seven-footer with superb range is? You can post him over and over and over again at the elbow and let him decide what he wants to do. You don't have to get him close to the basket. You don't have to get him space on the perimeter to drive. You just have to get him the ball and let him work. And the best part about Nowitzki is that he does most of his damage from the place hardest to guard, and the place that it's hardest to hit from. Mid-range. Or as it has come to be known in the playoffs, The Dirk Zone.

Being able to post Dirk this high allows him to drive and then spot-up if the defender overplays to the baseline. Nowitzki has gone to his right out of the left block 53 percent of the time in these playoffs, and shot 47 percent from the field while scoring 55 percent of the time. Nowitzki's handle and ability to attack the rim with quickness and size forces the defender to jump to the baseline, which means that when Nowitzki pulls up? It's game over.

Nick Collison played Nowitzki exceptionally well in the Western Conference Finals. Particularly, he attacked Nowitzki's face-up game. This works better on the left block than the right. On the right, Nowitzki can bring the ball up off his left pivot foot while keeping space between the ball and the defender. On the left, he's bringing it up through the defender. Which is problematic, and not just because defenders take as many whacks as they can. Nowitzki has gone face-up out of the left block just five times in the postseason, versus 24 times in the right.

Nowitzki's fadeaway ability from the right elbow has another effect. Defenders are forced to play up to try and defend that shot, which results in Nowitzki being able to dribble with his dominant hand (right) across the lane. From there Nowitzki can pull-up, fadeaway, or, as he often does, stops, pump-fakes, then pivots and either shoots or pump-fakes again to draw the foul.

Perimeter Assault:
Keeping spacing and knocking down 3-pointers is going to be key for the Mavericks. The more they do that, the less the Heat can justify sending help to Nowitzki's right shoulder where he's less comfortably. Sadly, he's just as deadly, scoring 1.09 points per possessions. The Heat will challenge Nowitzki to pass out of the double. From there, it'll be up to the shooters Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, J.J. Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson to punish the Heat and keep Dirk one-on-one.

Outside of Dirk, the key is transition opportunities. Jason Kidd is particularly effective despite his age due to his ability to victimize the defense when the transition defense sets in. Kidd is king of finding scorers in-between the fast break and settling into the half-court set. Barea provides an excellent change of pace. Barea's greatest strength is the dribble probe, where he loops under the basket. The Mavericks want Barea's suprising speed and touch to frustrate the Heat defenders who attack most often at the rim.

Bread and Butter:
The final component is the pick and roll. Nowitzki will often set and reset off the pick, exhausting defenders. But the sneak attack for the Mavericks is from Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion. Marion and Chandler are more athletic than the big defenders the Heat will bring. The Heat are likely to hedge significantly on the ball-handler, which will leave Joel Anthony, Chris Bosh, or Udonis Haslem trying to cover the more athletic Marion and Chandler. Both of those two have significant experience in the alley-oop (Marion working with Steve Nash, Tyson Chandler with Chris Paul). Those kinds of easy scores demoralize the interior defense and will force the Heat to collapse into the paint even more. Against the Bulls this was an advantage, but the Mavericks' perimeter shooters are good enough to make good on that threat, creating an impossible counter for the Heat.

Cooling Down the Heat:
Okay, I'm going to level with you. The Mavericks' model for stopping the Heat looks an awful lot like what the Bulls did, forcing the Heat into long-range 2-pointer field goals, fading away, contested. Unfortunately, the Heat can hit a boatload of those. The Mavericks will send help defense, but in reality, they've got liabilities in personnel on the perimeter and in the post. The Mavericks are likely to double aggressively to dare the Heat's 3-point shooters to keep pace with Dallas, who is a superior shooting team. The Mavericks want to try and turn the game into a shootout, not a slugfest. If they can just manage to contain Dwyane Wade or LeBron James from going ballistic from mid to long-range, that's the game they want to play.

Discourage and Contain:
The Mavericks are going to need all six fouls from both Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, because the Heat will attack relentlessly to try and a. get to the line and b. get the bigs in foul trouble or c. you know, lay the ball in. The Mavericks are going to have to accept those fouls to a degree. It'll help if other defenders can step in to draw charges and distribute the fouls while the Dallas bigs can make an impact strong enough to lower the Heat's FT percentage. Missed free throws lower their points per possession and make the Heat an ugly duckling in a swan race, offensively.

Speed Kills:
Dallas wants to create fast-break opportunities. The Heat are a superior offense in transition, but Dallas can create easy opportunities by playing the passing lanes. The Heat still try and make flashy and cross-court passes. The Mavericks' ideal results in converting those into buckets which allows their defense to reset at the other end. The Heat run off of misses, not makes. Dallas can keep pace by capitalizing on the Heat's sloppy handling.

Posted on: May 29, 2011 9:41 pm
Edited on: May 29, 2011 11:03 pm

Miami Heat: Blueprint for a 2011 NBA Finals win

Here's a look at the blueprint for the Miami Heat to win the 2011 NBA Finals. Posted by Ben Golliver.


One more series, four more wins. The Miami Heat are on the verge of proving their many, loud naysayers wrong in the very first season since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to team up during the summer of 2010. The team's strategy for completing their journey to the 2011 NBA title will feature the same philosophies that have produced a 12-3 postseason record, perhaps with a few tweaks to account for specific aspects of their opponent: the Dallas Mavericks. Let's break it down.

When Miami is on offense:

The foundational element of Miami's offense is pure talent and athleticism. With James, Wade and Bosh, the Heat boast three players who are capable of scoring in multiple ways and from many, many different locations. They'll enter the NBA Finals presenting the Mavericks with match-up problems at all three positions. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has played all three increasingly heavy minutes during the Finals push. Look for that to continue on the grand stage, obviously.

The biggest disparity in talent comes at the two spot, where Wade is too quick, crafty and multi-dimensional for DeShawn Stevenson, and too big and athletic for Jason Terry. Wade was a bit limited against the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals and there's speculation that he might be suffering the effects of an injury. Regardless, he can get to the basket with an array of moves, is an expert at drawing fouls and has a good sense for when to take over a game. He's developed a nearly seamless one-two punch with James in the playoffs, and pretty much everyone has been left reeling.

Speaking of James, he will own a major match-up advantage as well, even though Mavericks forward Shawn Marion has played very well in the playoffs. James' strength will be a major asset here, as Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant struggled against Marion because he was often not able to establish position or get himself open. James, who handles the ball regularly and has one of the best physiques in the league, will not have those problems. Marion and Stevenson will settle for making James work and limiting his efficiency. He's going to produce in a big way no matter what.

Dallas will surely look to counter these perimeter deficiencies by switching to zone defenses and hoping that Miami settles for contested three-pointers. It's a pick your poison approach that likely will not be sustainable for major stretches. Shifting quickly between different looks and using center Tyson Chandler as a rim protector will help. With both James and Wade playing such heavy minutes, Dallas likely won't be able to use its bench as much as it might want to, as Peja Stojakovich and J.J. Barea are defensive liabilities. Barea can probably be hidden, but finding minutes for Stojakovic will be difficult. There's no zone in the world that can help him stay with James or Wade.

In other words, this series belongs to James and Wade if they show up determined to steal it. They're an overpowering, talented duo that doesn't have a match. 

On top of that, Bosh's range will present problems for Dallas, just as Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge did in the beginning of their first round series. The Mavericks will look to muscle Bosh, but he just stood up nicely against the Bulls and Boston Celtics, perhaps the two hardest-nosed teams in the league. Attending to Bosh at all times will leave Dallas that much more vulnerable to penetrating attacks from James and Wade, and certainly all three players are capable of getting Chandler into foul trouble. 

With Mike Miller coming on a bit to help space the floor, Udonis Haslem adding some energy and occasional offense, and the point guard pair of Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers showing up just often enough to not completely stand out as weak links, the Heat have proven why they are the No. 1 ranked Eastern Conference team when it comes to offensive efficiency. There's balance and a nice array of scoring options in the halfcourt.

Dallas has survived on defense in the playoffs by forcing and capitalizing on the mental breakdowns, especially late in games, of their opponents. The Heat have passed every test in that regard, showcasing huge spurts against both the Celtics and the Bulls when they needed it most. This series will be decided by who executes better late in games; It's hard to bet against the Heat, especially coming off of their spectacular Game 5 comeback against the Bulls in which James and Wade were both timely and unstoppable.

When Dallas is on offense:

While Dallas has the No. 1 overall offense in this year's playoffs, the Heat just might be breathing a sigh of relief entering this series. Why? Because the Mavericks do not have an elite athlete at the point guard position, an asset that has forced the Heat to switch their positional match-ups regularly because of Bibby's deficiencies as a defender. Now that Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose are in the rearview, the Heat can get back to more conventional match-ups.

That is, of course, unless Spoelstra wants to turn his best defender, James, loose on Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas' All-Star forward has been pretty much unstoppable in the postseason, scoring in as many ways as you can think of and getting to the foul line whenever his shot hasn't been falling. In James, Nowitzki might be meeting his match: He's strong enough to force him away from the hoop, quick enough to get up and contest any shot, and savvy enough to play solid ball denial defense without exposing himself to backdoor plays or other counters. In other words, if James sets his mind to make Nowitzki's life miserable he is fully capable of doing it. 

The Heat will likely turn to that smaller defensive lineup, but they also have the option of using Bosh, Haslem or center Joel Anthony on Nowitzki as well. In that trio, the Heat have good quickness, size and strength options, as well as three intelligent players who understand time/score situations and will do their best to limit Nowitzki's cheap points. 

Aside from Nowitzki, the key to stopping Dallas is to maintain total commitment to your perimeter defensive rotations. With Jason Kidd at the helm, the Mavericks move the ball very, very unselfishly, finding the open man and taking high-percentage shots. The Heat have the athletes on the perimeter to close down space very quickly and have shown the defensive commitment that the Lakers, for example, were unable to maintain. The Heat's stars also have an uncanny ability to remember tendencies: James, Wade and Bosh are all well above average in their ability to size up their opponents' strengths and weaknesses. They'll force players like Stevenson to beat them.

Barea might very well be the role player who poses the most difficult match-up for the Heat, who lack an undersized, quick guard to stay with him. However, there will be plenty of athletes looking to help from the weakside should he attempt his patented forays into the paint. One-on-one, players like Marion and Chandler are not capable of hurting the Heat. They'll have much more success when the ball is moving, so you can expect the Heat to do everything they can to disrupt that rhythm and movement. 

Finally, the Heat will look to continue their solid team work on the glass. The Heat have been top five in defensive rebound rate in the playoffs, getting big contributions from both James and Wade, as well as the big men. That will need to continue given the presence of Chandler and Nowitzki, who have been a fearsome rebounding combination as well. 


To sum this up: The Heat will look to win the 2011 NBA Finals by exploiting their clear offensive match-up advantages: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. That duo will be encouraged to be in full attack mode from the opening tip, looking to get to the foul line and scramble Dallas' defense off the dribble, opening up shooting and passing lanes for Chris Bosh and the rest of Miami's role players. 

While the Mavericks only have one player that can be expected to stay with James, the Heat have four quality options to throw at Dirk Nowitzki. Constant pressure and extra attention on Nowitzki will be a major defensive goal, but just as important will be Miami's ability to keep its shape and limit uncontested shots.

On paper, crafting a blueprint for victory in this series for the Heat is much easier than it is for the Mavericks. The element of luck or chance is not really at play here. It's about exerting clear advantages -- perimeter athleticism, top-end talent, high basketball intelligence -- rather than hoping, praying or getting unusually hot from outside.

Miami isn't in the NBA Finals by accident. And it won't be a surprise if they execute this plan with ruthless efficiency.
Posted on: May 29, 2011 6:30 pm
Edited on: May 29, 2011 11:38 pm

Dallas Mavericks: NBA Finals nightmare scenario

Posted by Royce Young

The Mavericks have made their living this postseason on two things, three I guess if you count Dirk: 1) really good, creative defense and 2) consistent shooting. One of those two things can stay a constant no matter what. But another can sometimes come and go.

And if the Mavs gifted touch were to leave them, their chances at a championship likely will too.

Unlike the Heat, the Mavs don't have the ability to really grind out wins. That's why the Western Conference Finals were pretty much the exact opposite of the Eastern Finals. The Mavs won with some timely offense, a pretty consistent defense and incredible shot-making in big moments.

Another thing? They made darn near every free throw they took. In their extremely tight five-game win over the Thunder, the Mavs made 134 of 153 free throws. That's almost 88 percent as a team. Now historically, the Mavs are one of the best free throw shooting teams every season. But if that were to disappear for a game and they missed eight or nine, it could be the difference between winning and losing.

The Heat play more of an attacking, brutal brand of basketball. The Mavs play a bit more finesse, using the mid-range jumpshot and a lot of drive and kick to open up looks. Miami's plan is a bit more reliable because in playoff style games, especially when you play the same team over and over, the grind out type of game beats the jumpshooting style most times.

That is, unless the jumpshooting stays good. Which so far in the postseason for the Mavericks it has. Opening round against the Blazers, Dallas shot the ball well. Against the Lakers, everyone expected them to cool at some point. They didn't. And against the Thunder -- a solid defensive team that closes on shooters well -- the Mavs stayed above 40 percent in every game and still used the 3-pointer effectively.

Now the Heat though are one of the truly elite defense teams. Especially on the perimeter where Dwyane Wade and LeBron James can limit penetration almost all on their own because of their man-to-man skills. So it will be up to the Mavericks to hit contested shots consistently. In at least four games, that is.

Another worst case for the Mavs is the dreaded "O" word -- officiating. Not because of what happened in 2006 necessarily, but in a game where one team attacks the rim hard and the other doesn't quite as much, a group of referees can sometimes take over a game.

Dirk has gotten the benefit of the whistle most of this postseason, taking 24 free throws in Game 1 versus the Thunder. But if points become very difficult to find in the last six minutes of a game and the Heat are attacking the paint, the whistle could turn against Dallas. I'm not saying that will happen, but in terms of worst-case, a Maverick nightmare definitely included an official awarding free throws possession after possession to Wade and LeBron un crunch time.

In that same vein, Tyson Chandler could prove to be the most important player in the series. He can protect the rim, seal off the paint and keep Wade and LeBron from driving at the iron non-stop. But if the game is touchy and he finds himself in foul trouble, the world could open up for the Heat. So if you're following me here, worst-case, the way a game is called could affect how the Mavs play.

The Heat are the favorites in this series. Most look at their talent and the fact that all the apparent weaknesses they had during the regular season -- depth, role players, execution -- aren't having nearly the same affect right now. So far, the Heat have disposed of every opponent in five games. And if things go bad for the Mavs, the same fate could be headed at them. Shoot the ball poorly, go cold, give away points or get in foul trouble and Dirk and company might be coming back empty handed from The Finals again.
Posted on: May 28, 2011 11:42 am

LeBron, Dirk still dwell on NBA Finals losses

LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki still dwell on their NBA Finals losses. Posted by Ben Golliver.


The 2011 NBA Finals features a match-up between arguably the two best players in the NBA yet to win a title: Miami Heat forward LeBron James and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki.

While neither has won a ring, both have had a chance before. In his second NBA season, James, just 22 years old, led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, where he was promptly swept out. The previous year was Nowitzki's title shot: The Mavericks lost in six games in the 2006 NBA Finals to the Heat, then led by Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal.

Memories of coming up short on the big stage all those years ago still haunt both players.

The Associated Press reportsthat James regularly watches tape of the 2007 sweep to motivate himself.
“I think about it all the time,” James said of that 2007 series. “I even go back and watch some of those games and see how I wasn’t that good of a player, especially on both ends of the floor. You just try to use those moments. I feel like there’s no way I should be out on the floor and the team that I’m on can’t win a game in a series. I use that as motivation. … I’ve got a lot of motivation.”
Hoopsworld.com -- citing a Dan Patrick Show interview -- writes that Nowitzki says he has taken the opposite approach, refusing to watch the tape. But he still remembers every detail of the loss vividly.
"Honestly, I've never went back to watch those games," Nowitzki admitted. "I think I would just be so sick to my stomach so I decided shortly after to never watch those games, but I still have a lot on my memory. Trust me. Game 5 down the stretch, we go up by one. Then, they get two free throws to win it and I kick the ball. I mean, all sorts of stuff is still on my mind. Five years ago seems like a long time, but some of the stuff is still fresh on my mind."
The differing approaches to the film study makes sense. James and the Cavaliers simply weren't ready yet and they got taken apart in surgical fashion. When James watches the tape, he likely sees a younger version of himself making all sorts of mistakes he wouldn't make now. For Nowitzki, the Mavericks and their fanbase, the tapes from the 2006 Finals are far more tortuous, as many still believe the officiating played a key role in determining who won that series. Nowitzki doesn't have the luxury of watching an unfinished version of himself losing to a clearly better team. There's no question Nowitzki is a stronger, better all-around player today than he was five years ago. But if he were to watch the 2006 tapes he would still be watching a very similar, already mature version of himself collapsing in four games straight.

To boil it down: James isn't really in a position to regret what happened in 2007. Nowitzki certainly is in that position with regard to 2006. That both get a chance to put their past failures behind him and redefine their historical NBA identity is probably the single best reason to watch the 2011 NBA Finals.
Posted on: May 27, 2011 7:52 pm

LeBron James is Vegas favorite to win Finals MVP

Miami Heat forward LeBron James is Las Vegas' favorite to win MVP of the NBA Finals. Posted by Ben Golliver. lebron-james

No surprise here: Miami Heat forward LeBron James is the odds-on favorite to win the 2011 NBA Finals MVP award. (Mandatory disclaimer: the following is for entertainment purposes only.) 

The Dallas Mavericks and Miami are set to start the NBA Finals on Tuesday night in Florida. Here is the full list of odds via Bodog.com for the award, which is formally known as the Bill Russell Trophy.  
Odds to Win the 2011 NBA Finals MVP (The Bill Russell Trophy)
LeBron James 5/4
Dirk Nowitzki 2/1
Dwyane Wade 7/2
Chris Bosh 11/2
Jason Kidd 10/1
Jason Terry 10/1
Field (Any Other Player) 7/1
James enters the NBA Finals with every reason to be the favorite. His team is favored to win the series. He was a force of nature on both ends of the floor against the Chicago Bulls. Perhaps most importantly, he was clutch: nailing huge three-pointers on offense and making Derrick Rose's life miserable on defense.

And, of course, his playoff stats have been monstrous: 26.0 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists, plus 1.5 blocks and 1.7 steals to boot. 

James, then, looks like the total package for this pick, which is almost always given to the player with the best numbers and/or biggest impact on the title winning team. 

In case you were wondering, Vegas set odds on James' regular season stats prior to the season. Here's how he performed compared to projections.
Points Per Game Over/Under: 23.0 PPG -- (James was over: 26.7)
Rebounds Per Game Over/Under: 7.5 RPG -- (This was a push: James finished with 7.5)
Assists Per Game Over/Under: 7.7 APG -- (James was under: 7.0)
While Dirk Nowitzki is almost a lock to win the Finals MVP should the Dallas Mavericks spring the upset, Heat guard Dwyane Wade represents a fairly good value pick at 7/2. Wade did look a bit limited -- perhaps by injury? -- against the Bulls so there's a risk factor there. He certainly has a huge match-up advantage, however, as neither DeShawn Stevenson nor Jason Terry figures to be able to meaningfully impact his ability to score in volume.
Posted on: May 27, 2011 3:22 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 6:12 am

NBA Finals Storylines: It Ain't 2006

Posted by Matt Moore

You're going to have the year 2006 emblazoned into your brain over the next five to 10 days if you pay attention to NBA coverage at all. It's going to dominate the talk since these two teams, the Heat and the Mavericks, met five years ago for the title. Everything will be examined in the same context and talk of the officials will be prime in Dallas, and talk of Wade's brilliance will be brought up in Miami, along with Udonis Haslem and his defense on Dirk Nowitzki. Let me stop you there.

The coaches are different. The rosters are different. The identities are different. The styles are different. The approaches are different. Everything is different. If you think that series defines Dirk's career or ability to succeed in the clutch, you just crawled out from under a rock. If you think Wade's still able to draw contact like he did in that series you're bonkers. If you think anything compares to the effect LeBron James can have on this series, you're out of your gourd.

This is not 2006.

This is 2011, and here are your NBA Finals storylines. 

Can Dallas' defense step up? 

The Mavericks gave up a 106.1 defensive efficiency in the playoffs this season through the Western Conference finals. That's seventh-best of all the teams in the league. Sure, they had more games to try and suffer through. But the reality is that the Mavericks for long stretches of the Western Conference Playoffs couldn't get stops. They found ways down the stretch to cut off the Thunder but it won't be nearly as easy against the Heat. We know the Heat's defense is legit. We know Miami's offense is legit. We know the Mavericks' offense is legit. But with so many size issues for the Mavericks, we're going to have questions about how they guard the Heat. Once again the absence of Caron Butler is extremely damaging for Dallas. The Mavericks will wind up with one of the following guarding Dwyane Wade: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic, Jose Barea, or Corey Brewer. That does not bode well. Even more concerning is Shawn Marion, as well as he played against Kevin Durant, guarding LeBron James.  No one can guard those players. But the Mavericks are especially ill-equipped to stop them. If the Mavericks' were ever going to whip out a zone, now might be the time. 

Will point guard play finally hurt the Heat?

Jrue Holiday did it a bit, but it didn't matter. Rajon Rondo was ... er ... not the same. Derrick Rose was shut down due to the offensive weapons surrounding him, or lack thereof, allowing James and Wade to freelance on him with an additional help defender on the double. But the Heat are facing a different beast in Jason Kidd. Kidd's not young, athletic (anymore, comparatively, though he can still get up and down the floor and has a decent amount of muscle). He's not going to try and torch the Heat on drives. He's just going to make the right play. Kidd will try and outsmart the Heat's athleticism and ability with savvy. He'll make passes they don't anticipate and aren't used to, slip between defenders only to beat their reactions defensively and make the right pass. Throw in Kidd's surprising recent ability to hit open 3-pointers and the Heat might be surprised at the old veteran working his Magic

Mavericks on the verge of validation

Dirk Nowitkzi is one of the best players of the past 10 years and he has no rings. Jason Kidd is a surefire Hall of Famer and doesn't have a ring. Jason Terrry has been a fourth-quarter maestro for the same franchise for the same length of time as Nowitzki, no ring. Mark Cuban has sunk more than $800 million into trying to earn a championship, no ring. Rick Carlisle led successful teams in Indiana and Detroit, no ring. This series is their best shot and in all likelihood, their last chance. This is everything for the Mavericks. The Heat have years to make another run. For the Mavericks, this is their absolute best chance at a title, to catch the Heat confident and still trying to figure themselves out. This isn't just an exciting shot at a title, it's about salvaging legacies and cementing greatness. 

The promise of 'The Decision'

They're there. They have to win four games and they will have backed it all up. All the talk, all the pomp, all the circumstance, all the pyro. The Heat will have lived up to their hype. The only way to shut up critics is to win it all. Miami's not just within sight of it, they're on the doorstep. They just beat the defending Eastern Conference champs and the top seed in the East featuring the best defensive team in the league. Yes, everyone will still regard James as arrogant, and question the value of teaming up with other elite teammates. But the narrative will start to shift if they win the title. James becomes a winner, Wade a two-time champ, and Erik Spoelstra a championship coach. Lose, and everyone's harshest criticism rings true.  Everything changes in four more games, either way. 

Posted on: May 27, 2011 1:47 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 2:11 am

NBA Finals: Heat, Mavs make a battle of closers

Finals will feature battle of great closers in Heat, Mavericks.

Posted by Matt Moore

You want a story for  the Finals? How's this. 

"No lead is safe."

The 2011 NBA Finals will feature two teams riding some of the strongest fourth quarter and final minutes play in recent history, maybe ever. Both teams absolutely crushed their opponents in the final minutes of the Conference Finals. You can talk about the inexperience they faced to get to the Finals, but the reality is that both teams crushed their opponents with long runs to close out big deficits and crush their opponent... multiple times.

The Finals set up an epic battle of notable clutch players. Dirk Nowitzki is on a roll of epic proportions at the moment, absolutely unstoppable with a seven foot frame and the single best jumper in the NBA. Jason Terry has been known to absolutely take over fourth quarters with huge shots. Jason Kidd won't wow you with 3-pointers (well, except you, Thunder, sorry), but he will always, always, always make the right decision and as Derrick Rose showed in the East. That's big. And Shawn Marion's clutch play has been quietly the defensive counterpart to Dirk Nowitzki. For the Heat? James, all day. LeBron has been another creature all-together in the fouth quarter of these playoffs. He hasn't just closed out, he's decided games are over and then made it so. Dwyane Wade had terrible quarters 1-3 in Games 4 and 5, and yet closed out the fourth and overtimes to make the difference. Even Chris Bosh has been clutch. 

There's not a player on either team you're concerned about in the key moments right now. Not one that will get the ball anyway. Defensively, Miami's got the edge, but the Thunder didn't fall apart on their own. These are veteran teams with amazing players, primed to finish strong.

These Finals may not be close. But if the game is within five after three quarters, heck, if it's within 20 after three quarters, neither team can feel safe. Each team will put the pedal down. For the Mavericks, it will be Dirk Nowitzki trying to overcome a much better set of defenders and the Mavericks using the inevitable doubles to find the open corner shooter. For the Heat? Just standing back and watching James and Wade do their thing. Can the Heat really stop Nowitkzi? Hard to see anyone playing better defense than Nick Collison did and Dirk made him look silly. Can anyone stop LeBron James right now?

No, really, can anyone, anywhere, stop LeBron James right now?

This isn't just the two best teams of the playoffs meeting to decide the title, it's the two teams who have shown consistently they want the game more, know how to win the game more, and have the will to close the game more.

And we get to see them settle which one of them wants a ring more.  
Posted on: May 27, 2011 12:33 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 2:32 am

Heat-Bulls series grades

Posted by Royce Young

The Heat finished the Bulls in Game 5, 83-80, with an incredible Dirk-ish comeback to lock up their place in the NBA Finals. Time to pull out the red pen and make some marks.


LeBron James: I'm not going to fall into the "The real MVP showed up!" talk. Derrick Rose won the MVP for what he did during the 82 games in the regular season. If they were to hand out a playoffs MVP, LeBron, along with Dirk, would be right there to get it.

That said, LeBron was truly phenomenal in this series. In every single way. His numbers are stellar (25.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 6.6 apg) but really where he made the difference was his defense on Derrick Rose. That switch in the fourth quarters of Games 4 and 5 is really what ended this for the Heat. A dud in Game 1 is all that keeps this from being a perfect mark. Grade: A

Dwyane Wade: Maybe he wasn't totally healthy, but I don't think that's a worthy excuse. Wade seemed to check out of Game 4 for about 47 minutes and struggled again in Game 5. His numbers were very un-Dwyane Wade-ish (18.8 ppg on 40.5 percent shooting) but he did hit some big time shots in Games 4 and 5. That's just so very Dwyane Wade. Grade: B

Chris Bosh: Most saw the Bosh-Boozer showdown as a hinge to the series. And there's no doubt Bosh got the best of the matchup. He had two 30-point games, scored 22 on 12 shots in Game 4 and finished with 20-10 in the deciding game. I don't really think at any point in this series you could say that Bosh was a liability. He wasn't perfect defensively and wasn't always strong on the boards, but when Bosh plays like this, the Heat are really good. Grade: A-

Miami's role players: It was Udonis Haslem showing up out of nowhere in Games 2 and 3. Then it was Mike Miller in Game 4. All season long people waxed about how, at some point, the Heat were going to have to get contributions from players outside the Big Three if they were going to win. They were going to have to find their Robert Horry, their Derek Fisher, their Insert Solid Champion Role Player. And right on cue, Miller and Haslem stepped up and saved the day in the Eastern Finals. That's going to have to continue, but don't dog the Heat's role players anymore, because they stepped up. Grade: A

Erik Spoelstra: Spoelstra trusted his bench, made a few good adjustments and, really, managed the game pretty well. After Game 1's disaster, Spoelstra kept his message strong and kept his team right where it needed to be. Some of his decisions were a bit weird with what he was doing with his big men, but it worked out in the end because his group advanced. Grade: B+


Derrick Rose: I feel like Rose deserves to be graded on a curve. He clearly was forced into half of his bad decisions because of the circumstances he was in. But shooting 35 percent for the series and turning it over 19 times in four games hurts. Plus, he missed crucial free throws in both Games 4 and 5. That's nobody's fault but his.

He took responsibility for the meltdown in Game 5 and it was good of him to do so. No doubt he was under an incredible amount of pressure to make every play for the Bulls. But in moments where he just needed to be himself and make a good play, he tried to make great ones. He pushed, pressed and didn't finish games. He's young, he'll grow from this. But this just wasn't his series. Grade: C

Luol Deng: Really, Deng did a pretty solid job adding secondary points for the Bulls. He averaged better than 17 points per game on good percentages and hit some pretty big shots. His defense on LeBron was good enough, I'd say. Because Chicago lost, it's obvious that he probably needed to be better, but, before the series, I think if you told people that Deng would average 17 points and seven rebounds for the series, they'd say he must've had a great set of games. Grade: B+

Carlos Boozer: In two games, Boozer was very good, on one end. In Games 3 and 4 he averaged 23 points and 14 rebounds. But for the series, he finished averaging 14.4 ppg and 10.2 rpg. That should tell you that he had three other meh games. His Game 5 was awful as he scored five points on 1-6 shooting. Not to mention his statuesque pick-and-roll defense in every game of the series. Grade: D+

Tom Thibodeau: It's hard to blame Thibodeau too much for the lack of offense for the Bulls, because that's kind of sort of been the way they've played all season long. They always relied on their defense, always counted on rebounding well and always hoped Rose would give them just enough to finish out games.

When their shooters got hot and a couple players scored the ball well, they could pile up some points. But to expect them to magically grow an offensive game in the Eastern Finals was unreasonable. Now that's probably as much of an indictment of Thibodeau as anything else because his team never had an offensive identity and that bit them hard in this series, but to put it all on him isn't really fair. Grade: B-

Composure: Missed free throws. Bad fouls. Dumb turnovers. Silly shots. Forced passes. All of it piled up to two blown leads in Games 4 and 5 for the Bulls, and it ultimately ended their season. Yes, it probably was as much a sign of their youth and inexperience, much like the Thunder. But you've got to just keep playing. Basketball is basketball, no matter the situation, no matter the pressure. The Bulls just tensed up at the worst moments. Grade: F
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