This series is filled with 3-point specialists. Yet nobody hit more shots from long range in Game 1 than LeBron James.
Can the Heat outshoot the Mavericks again?
Among the many unexpected happenings in Game 1, perhaps chief among them was that the Heat hit more 3s than the Mavericks -- and at a better rate. For long stretches in Tuesday’s game, the Mavericks put four shooters on the floor in hopes to stretch the Heat's defense thin and open up the floor. The Mavericks shot well from downtown (41 percent), but they squandered many open looks. The Heat, however, had their best shooting display all postseason.
The Mavericks entered Tuesday’s game shooting a blistering 39 percent from beyond the arc in the playoffs, using the downtown daggers to pierce the hearts of the Thunder, Lakers and Blazers along the way. But on Tuesday, it was Dallas’ 3-point defense that decided its fate.
Next to a dunk, the corner 3 is perhaps the most coveted shot in the game. It’s the closest shot worth three points, standing 22 feet away from the iron, and teams such as the Spurs have won titles by frequenting that sliver of real estate. The Heat managed to take 10 corner 3s in Game 1, which outnumbered the team’s entire total from the Chicago series (six). Mario Chalmers hit three of them, and Mike Miller and James each nailed one of their own.
The corner 3 isn’t necessarily a pocket behind the Mavericks’ 2-3 zone, but Dallas was clearly more concerned with packing the paint and daring the Heat to shoot from beyond the arc. The Mavs will probably pay more attention to the Heat’s arc game in Game 2, especially in the corners, and don’t expect Peja Stojakovic to come up empty again. Rest assured, Dallas will come out firing.
Will the Heat continue to contain Dirk Nowitzki?
The Mavericks torched their Western Conference foes on the pick-and-roll this spring, but the Heat were up to the task in Game 1.
Miami defended Dallas' half-court attack beautifully, one reason that Nowitzki was "held" to 27 points on 24 true shots (shot attempts, including those that resulted in a trip to the foul line), a stat line the Heat can happily live with from the postseason's most unconscious scorer.
Pick-and-roll defense isn't the stuff of highlight reels, but it's been the foundation of the Heat's success for a while. Tuesday night was no different.
The Heat opted to put a ton of pressure on the Mavs' ball handlers and the passing lanes with both defenders on the pick-and-roll. Although that defensive tandem was pushing Jason Kidd, J.J. Barea or Jason Terry uphill, the Heat's other big man swiftly rotated onto Dirk.
Nowitzki got his share of isolation opportunities but could never find enough room to breathe. Heat defenders crowded Nowitzki and forced him to put the ball on the floor and score off the bounce. Dirk didn't score a field goal in isolation all night and found himself passing out of one-on-one matchups.
Opportunities came quite easily to Dirk during the first three rounds of the playoffs, but the Heat issued a strong statement to Dallas: If Nowitzki wants the kind of space he was able to find against the Lakers and Thunder, the Mavs will have to be more creative setting him up. That means more baseline pindown courtesy of Tyson Chandler and more stuff that generates mismatches. Nowitzki's teammates also could loosen things up for their leader by hitting a few outside shots.
The lingering question, of course, is the finger. Will it be a problem, or, as James suggested on Tuesday night, is a "guide hand" merely an accessory for a shooter like Dirk?
Did the Heat solve their rebounding issues for good?
Weeks had passed since we'd seen the Heat attack the boards as they did in Game 1. All in all, Miami recovered 35.8 percent of its missed shots, its highest percentage since Game 3 against Philadelphia back in April. By grabbing 10 more offensive rebounds than the Mavericks, the Heat earned valuable extra possessions in a game when every bucket seemed like a struggle.
When we see an offensive rebounding surge with a heavy zone defense by opponent, we’re quick to assume that the Mavericks’ defensive strategy was the culprit. In fact, only a few of the Heat’s 16 offensive rebounds came when the Mavericks were in a zone defense. The reality is that the Heat simply outworked the Mavericks underneath the rim.
Sure, there were instances when a Heat big man sneaked his hands in on many live balls that should have landed in the laps of the Dallas big men. But the Mavericks also missed their assignments. Chris Bosh was left unattended several times underneath, while Nowitzki failed to box out anyone on several occasions. That forced Dirk to rely on his two-inch vertical for boards -- that didn’t work.
Much of the rebounding game depends on luck, but after watching the tape, the Mavericks deserved the rebounding deficit. If they want to bounce back in the series, the rebounding effort is a good place to start.
How can the Heat get better looks against the Dallas zone?
The Heat relied on their dependable formula of grinding the opponent into submission late, but make no mistake: The Heat didn't exactly shine offensively on Tuesday night. Take away a few of those improbable, contested 3-pointers that fell through and some of those 50-50 balls, and the Heat's half-court offense looked labored.
The Heat's offense came up empty on the majority of possessions during which they encountered the Mavericks' zone. It wasn't as if they didn't apply tried-and-true zone-busting principles. They reversed the ball side-to-side, flashed big men to the foul line area and ran speedsters along the baseline behind the zone. Yet more often than not, the Heat settled for long-range jumpers.
What can the Heat can do to find better shots against Dallas' zone? First, they desperately need to get into their sets more quickly. The zone excels when defenders stake out their territory and force the offense to react. But striking -- particularly after Dallas misses -- before the Mavericks can settle in will produce results. The Heat are simply too fast and nimble not to exploit their speed against a scheme that prospers on stagnation.
Second, the Heat should use Wade -- as they did a couple of times -- to run off the ball behind the Dallas zone. Not only is that an opportunity to get Wade going early, but when he's darting along the baseline and diving to the basket, he's a menace.
Who will step up for the Heat in Game 2?
James, Wade and Bosh have demonstrated that they don't require a lot of help for the Heat to win, but they need something.
In Game 1, the Heat beat the Mavs despite having two starters -- Mike Bibby and Joel Anthony -- fail to record a single point in 32 combined minutes. Anthony's doughnut isn't so much of a concern because his value is defensive, but the APB for Bibby's outside shot continues to go unanswered.
Fortunately for Miami, Chalmers knocked down shots from the corner against the Dallas zone, while Udonis Haslem and Miller helped provide the Heat with an edge on the glass.
Game 2 will present some additional challenges for Miami. Miller reaggravated his shoulder injury and could be rendered ineffective. Figuring out where the defense broke down on those Chalmers' corner 3s is certain to be a priority of Dallas' capable coaching staff and veteran defenders. Meanwhile, Haslem is still just getting his legs under him, especially that midrange jumper that allows the Heat to stretch the floor.
Dallas' trio of scoring guards won't shoot 27 percent again, and those wide-open looks for Chalmers likely will disappear. So unless the Heat want to rely on the long-range exploits of James and Wade, they'll continue to need some help from roster spots 4 through 8.