Miami trio not No. 1; free throws a culprit?

Here's one lesser-known impact of Miami’s failure to knock off Dallas in the Finals: It denied the Heat the top spot in my ranking of the greatest trios of all time.

As I noted in this column that ran much earlier in the season, Miami’s grouping of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh threatened to have the highest “Trio Rating” in league history, surpassing that of Chicago's Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant in 1991-92.

And they did, in fact, post a slightly higher rating than that group. Even with all three posting worse PER numbers than a year earlier, Miami’s three stars had a Trio Rating of 26.6, just beating out Chicago’s 26.4 mark.

Except for one thing: They didn’t qualify.

The top trios on my list are limited to champions only. Several other near-champions have posted fine Trio Ratings of their own, but the Jordan-Pippen-Grant group is the best one to walk away with the hardware. Still.

And based on their Finals play, this distinction is completely merited. The Heat were more like a typical one-superstar outfit in these Finals, with Dwyane Wade putting up huge numbers while LeBron James and Chris Bosh barely offset what Jason Terry and Shawn Marion did for the opposition.

It’s hard to make a case for them as the greatest trio of all time when they were only marginally the best trio in the series -- Miami’s threesome was outscored by Dallas’ in the clincher, 60-57, and while the Dallas trio had 30 fewer points, they also needed commensurately fewer shots to get those points and 13 fewer turnovers. Sum across the three players and the Heat’s were better, but it wasn’t an overwhelming advantage.

And, in turn, if "best trio in series" is such a tussle, it makes "best trio ever" an extremely difficult argument to sustain.

Finally, one other Finals note that I have to mention after perusing the stat sheet one more time.

We’ve hardly discussed this, but even before Miami’s bricks in Game 6 the free-throw shooting was a defining issue in this series. In fact, even with LeBron James getting rid of the ball as fast as humanly possible in the fourth quarter and Dirk Nowitzki making back-breaking shots, you can make a credible argument that free-throw shooting anomalies decided the series.

The Mavs and Heat shot virtually identical marks in the regular season; Dallas made 77.7 percent, Miami 76.9 percent. Over the course of the series, we would have expected this to produce a one-to-two-point edge for Dallas.

The actual advantage? Seventeen.

The Heat made only 70.9 percent from the stripe in the series; compared to their regular-season average it cost them nine points over the six games. Dallas, in contrast, hit its regular-season number almost exactly.

But if you break down who was shooting the disparity gets worse -- Miami tended to have its better foul shooters shooting, while aside from Dirk Nowitzki Dallas did not. Multiply Finals attempts times regular-season percentages for the players who were shooting, and we’d have expected 118 makes from Miami, not the 105 they converted. That’s a 13-point differential … in a series where Dallas outscored Miami by a total of 14 points.

Do the same exercise for Dallas, and the Mavs had 125 points instead of an expected 121, with Nowitzki’s scintillating 45-of-46 providing the difference.

Between the two sides, that’s a 17-point swing over the six games. Again, the final margin between the sides was only 14 points. In a series that was so close, Dallas’ unexpectedly superior free-throw shooting proved decisive.