By John Carroll, Scouts Inc.
The 2011 NBA Finals has turned into a great series between two evenly matched teams. Each game has been extremely close and been decided in the fourth quarter. In the past five games, the winner has been decided in the final minute or on the last shot of the game.
Game 5 was the first offensive game of this series. Both teams scored over 100 points for the first time in this series. We had drama with Dwyane Wade getting hurt. We had the specatular 3-point shooting of the Mavericks, shooting 13-for-19 (68.4 percent) from behind the arc. The bench contributions of the Heat were magnificent. Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller and Juwan Howard combined for 40 points off the bench for the Heat and were almost too much for the Mavs to overcome.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has described his team as persistent and old school. They utilized that persistence to climb back into the game in the fourth quarter. After the Heat went on a 9-0 run to take a four-point lead with 4:37 left in the game the Mavs went on a 17-4 run down the stretch with big plays by J.J. Barea, Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry. Simple, old-school basketball. Few dunks, no high-flying basketball, just old fashioned offense and defense. Carlisle’s teams got big stops in the last four minutes and made some timely 3-point shots and free throws to win the game 112-103.
Game 6 Adjustments
1. Miami Defense: Miami has not played very well defensively in the past two games. They have allowed the Mavericks to have way too many wide-open looks in Games 4 and 5. The Mavericks could not make the open shots in Game 4 but they buried almost every open look in Game 5. In addition with the Heat leading by four points with 4:37 left in the game Miami could not get enough defensive stops to win the game. They allowed the Mavericks to score 112 points for the game on 56 percent shooting from the field and 68.4 percent from behind the arc. The Heat have not been able to stop Nowitzki in this series but they have done a good job on his teammates. That is, until Game 5. The Heat allowed Tyson Chandler, Terry, Kidd and Barea to combine for 64 points and Nowitzki’s 29 points that was enough to beat the Miami Heat.
Miami could not defend the Mavericks from behind the 3-point line. It cost them the game.
The Heat have prided themselves on their man-to-man defense all throughout the playoffs. Their defense was able to shut down the 76ers, the Celtics and the Bulls. They have not been able to control the much more talented Mavericks. If they want to win an NBA Championship they are going to have to play much better individual and team defense in Game 6.
2. Dallas Defense: Although the Mavericks won Game 5 I am sure they will be watching the video of their defense during the middle portions of the fourth quarter. From around the 7:00 minute mark of the fourth quarter to approximately the 4:30 minute mark they were horrible defensively. During this time the Heat went on a 9-0 run and built a four-point lead. They almost lost the game because of their defense during this time. Their pick-and-roll coverage was poor and they gave up way too many easy baskets. They gave up layup after layup during this stretch. The Mavs' individual defense and team defense were horrendous with the game on the line. Their big men did not rotate quick enough to help on rolls to the basket. Their weak side defenders were up hugging their men instead of giving help and protecting their teammates.
Expect Game 6 to come down to who can get quality shots and who can get consistent stops on the defensive end of the floor in the fourth quarter. Dallas must improve its ability to play man-to-man defense throughout the entire game and especially in the fourth quarter if they want to win an NBA title.
3. Helping Dirk: Nowitzki finally got help in Game 5. He has had one teammate help him every game, but in Game 5 he got major contributions from several teammates. Dirk did his job and scored 29 points for the Mavs. Luckily he had four other Mavericks in double figures also. When Terry plays well alongside Nowitzki the Mavs are tough to beat and in Game 5 Terry exploded for 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting from the field. In addition he scored eight of his points in the final 3:23 of the game. Barea added 17 points hitting 4-of-5 from behind the arc. Kidd and Chandler both chipped in with 13 points each.
The Mavericks need their auxiliary players to play big in Game 6 in order to win this series. They must provide Nowitzki with offensive support to lessen the burden on him. If they can support him like they did in Game 5 they have a good chance to win a NBA Championship.
4. LeBron Production: For the normal NBA player 17 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds would be a good night. But for LeBron James, possibly the most gifted athlete in the NBA, his triple-double did not help his team win Game 5. His coaches, teammates and fans expect so much more out of him. LeBron looks like he has lost faith in his jump shot. That is the same jumper that torched the Celtics and Bulls in earlier rounds. He has lost his aggressiveness, going to the free throw line only two times in 46 minutes of play in Game 5. And James has come up empty time and time again in the fourth quarter. He scored only two points in the fourth quarter of Game 5 and that was a bucket that the Mavericks basically conceded to prevent a 3-point attempt.
James has come up empty in the last two games. If James had contributed more in Game 4 when he only scored eight points the Heat would probably be up 3-2 in this series. In Game 5 with Wade injured and limited to only 34 minutes LeBron needed to take the game over and he didn’t. He has especially been non-existent in the final 12 minutes. He has scored only 11 points in fourth quarter of this series, averaging 2.2 points per quarter. That type of effort is not going to win the Miami Heat an NBA Championship. In the final 4:37 of Game 5, with Miami holding a four-point lead LeBron missed two jump shots, committed an offensive foul, and got beaten by two Terry 3-point jump shots. The Miami Heat need so much more from LeBron in the fourth quarter of Game 6. Their season and chances of winning an NBA Championship are riding on his ability to contribute and close out games. He did it in the earlier rounds and they need for him to do it again.
5. Limit Turnovers: One of the biggest themes throughout this series has been the ability of the Mavericks to limit their turnovers and not let the Heat capitalize off of those turnovers. I have said previously that the Mavericks need to be somewhere between 10-12 turnovers in order to win a game. In Game 5 they turned it over 11 times and that led to 15 points. The Heat are so dangerous in the open court, attacking the rim that if the Mavericks cannot keep that number down they cannot win. Since Game 2 they have taken better and better care of the ball. This is a big statistic leading into Game 6. The Mavs must take care of the ball, especially playing on the road in Miami. They cannot let the Heat get on a big roll due to turnovers which would lead to easy buckets and get the Miami crowd into a frenzy. The must have a low-turnover game if they want to win Game 6.
Prediction: Heat win Game 6.