MIAMI -- Game 2 isn't about Dirk or LeBron. It's not about Wade or Bosh. It's about one man, and only one man, and this is a weird thing to say because that man won't play.
No, I'm not talking about useless Mavs forward Peja Stojakovic, although that man shouldn't play in Game 2, either.
But that brings me to my point, and to the one man who will have the biggest impact on Game 2. His name is Rick Carlisle. He coaches the Mavericks. Game 2 will come down to the adjustments he makes, or doesn't make, after a mostly competitive Game 1 that eventually turned lopsided because, frankly, Carlisle did a poor job of making in-game adjustments.
|Rick Carlisle, the ball is in your court in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. (AP)|
But Dallas does have an edge on the bench, and it's the guy wearing the most expensive suit. Nothing against Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. He's a fine coach, and if you ask me, he's about to join the exclusive club of coaches who have won an NBA championship. His team is that good, that talented, but he's the one steering the ship. Look what steering a talented ship did for Red Auerbach. And Phil Jackson. They're geniuses! OK, they won a lot more than one ring. So will Spoelstra, I bet.
In the meantime, though, Carlisle has a three-to-one edge on Spoelstra in years of head coaching experience, and a 3 ½-to-1 edge in postseason games. He's far more prepared. Which means Game 2 is his game, because Game 2 -- more than any other game in an NBA playoff series -- is the one that comes down to adjustments.
Check out these 2011 playoffs. You'll see what I'm talking about. In both conference finals, the Game 1 loser was the Game 2 winner. In the conference semis it happened two more times, Chicago rebounding in Game 2 against Atlanta, and Oklahoma City rebounding against Memphis. How does this happen? It's simple, really.
Game 1 is when both teams make their generic opening statement, but Game 2 is when both coaches make their cross-examination. They probe the other team after studying Game 1, and it's easier to probe if you're the losing coach. The winning team will generally do what it did to win. The Game 1 loser? Time to make some changes. See if something else works.
Now it's Rick Carlisle's turn to make some changes. See if something else works. Lord knows Game 1 didn't work, not the way he pushed the buttons of his bench. J.J. Barea was awful, missing 7 of 8 shots and having nobody on the Heat backcourt he could guard, and still Carlisle played him 18-plus minutes, slightly more than his postseason average. Most galling, Barea's minutes came at the expense of defensive stopper DeShawn Stevenson, who was actually hitting 3-pointers (2 of 3 for six points, with a block, in 14 minutes) for a change.
Barea has served a purpose in recent games, but Stojakovic hasn't made a positive impact in two series. After contributing nothing of note against the Thunder in the Western finals, he missed all three shots from the floor in Game 1. And still he played nearly 15 minutes, though his presence meant more zone defense -- to mask his inability to guard man-to-man -- which in turn meant lousy defensive rebounding for Dallas.
Four times in his 10 minutes with the media on Wednesday, Carlisle bemoaned his team's defensive rebounding from Game 1. It was the same culprit he had identified after the game Tuesday, and with reason. The Heat grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, 10 more than Dallas. Ten more opportunities for an offense featuring James and Wade? Crushing. And Carlisle knows it.
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So when I asked him Wednesday about the adjustments he'd make, he said he expected to make them.
Carlisle: "Like you want to know specifically?"
Carlisle: "We'll be ready for Game 2."
One more question.
Carlisle: "You're done. You're done."
Corey Brewer. Might we see more of him -- as in, any of him?
Carlisle: "Possibly. I mean, that's an honest answer."
Look, I'm not saying Corey Brewer is the difference between Dallas' winning and losing Game 2. But I'm saying he has to play, if for no other reason than his presence on the court will eliminate Stojakovic's. And with Brewer, the Mavs wouldn't have to resort to the rebound-killing zone that marks Stojakovic's minutes. When Brewer was with Minnesota, he guarded the opponent's best player.
"I've guarded LeBron," Brewer told me Wednesday. "D-Wade. All those guys. That was my job."
Me: Are you going to play in Game 2?
Him: "No idea. But I never know. I just stay ready."
As he was earlier this postseason, against the Lakers. After playing only four minutes in six games of the previous series against Portland, Brewer improbably sparked the Mavs out of a 60-44 hole in the third quarter of Game 1 vs. the Lakers. After his eight minutes were done -- after he'd contributed five points, a steal, rebound and assist -- the Mavs were within five. They won that game, then the next three.
Again, I'm not saying he's the key to this series. Corey Brewer? No. Not him. But something different from Game 1. Anything different from Game 1. And from the sound of things, the Mavs players aren't planning on anything different. To a man Wednesday, they uttered variations of "doing what we do" for Game 2, including Barea, who uttered a more chilling, "To beat this team we'll have to score more. I know that means I have to keep shooting, and doing what I do."
Terrific. We saw how that worked out in Game 1.
Try it again in Game 2! What do you have to lose?
Other than the NBA Finals, I mean.