Sunday, June 5, 2011
NBA Finals, Game 3: 5 things to watch
By Kevin Arnovitz and Tom Haberstroh
What’s up with Chris Bosh? For Bosh, Game 3 is a homecoming of sorts for the Dallas native. But it’s much more than that; it’s a chance to quiet the doubters.
In his first career NBA Finals, Bosh has picked a bad time to have one of his coldest two-game shooting slumps of the season. In the two opening games in Miami, Bosh shot just 26 percent from the floor, including just 24 percent on shots within 10 feet. Up to this point, Bosh looked completely unfazed by the gravity of the playoffs, but he admitted Saturday the scrutiny has never been this magnified.
“Here it’s a little different,” Bosh said about the Finals stage. “The microscope is a lot more focused.”
Bosh has beaten tough defenders before. He has already defeated Kevin Garnett, the defensive player of the year runner-up, during the Heat’s playoff run. But Tyson Chandler, who placed third in the voting, has given Bosh all kinds of problems.
Bosh has struggled to get past the 7-foot-1 Chandler off the dribble, and even when he does the rest of the Mavericks defense refuses to let him get a clean look at the rim. The only two buckets Bosh got at the rim in Game 2? One came against the immobile Peja Stojakovic and the other on a putback dunk on which no one boxed him out.
Sure, Chandler will continue to challenge Bosh on the block, but the Heat power forward also missed plenty of shots he normally hits. Sometimes, there are adjustments that need to be made, and sometimes the ball just rims out. In Bosh’s case, it’s a little of both. In Game 3, expect him to look for more contact on Chandler and push him in foul trouble. With just four free throws in Game 2, Bosh can only go up from here.
Did the Mavericks figure some things out defensively during their Game 2 rally? Lost amid the madness of the closing seven minutes of Game 2 was a subtle defensive adjustment made by the Mavericks down the stretch. As noted by Two Man Game's Rob Mahoney, Dallas' decision to switch up its defensive coverage and aggressively blitz LeBron James was a primary reason the Heat had trouble finding good looks at the basket during those final 12 possessions.
"They did a great job of playing two on the ball," James said. "They used Tyson Chandler to come off pick-and-rolls, Tyson Chandler or Dirk. They blitzed me and D-Wade's pick-and-roll. Something different."
Something different, indeed, and a possible breakthrough for Dallas. The Mavs aren't generally a trapping team. Chandler tends to be most useful defending the paint, and Nowitzki isn't a big man endowed with great speed to trap and recover.
Yet, the Mavs applied pressure and it paid huge dividends against James and Wade. Neither felt comfortable attacking from the perimeter and, more times than not, the ball never found its way across the 3-point line.
James' willingness to forego hero-ball and act as distributor marked the turning point of the Eastern Conference finals. If the Mavs decide to double-down on their fourth-quarter game plan, James will need to adjust accordingly.
When did the Heat suddenly become a 3-point shooting team? Erik Spoelstra isn’t pleased with the Heat’s migration to the perimeter. The Heat took 30 3-pointers in Game 2, their second-highest total of the entire season, and 11 of those came in the disastrous fourth quarter. That’s not a coincidence.
At Saturday’s practice in Dallas, Spoelstra was stern with his response to a question about the Heat’s newfound 3-point attack.
“Our guys know. That hasn't been a successful formula,” Spoelstra said. “It was well documented, obviously, during the regular season when we settled and became a jump-shooting team. We could win a lot of games, but we also experienced a lot of pain.”
3-pointers are an important part of a balanced offense, but the Heat have never tilted this far away from the basket. In Game 2, the Heat took 42 shots outside of 16 feet. In a regular-season game, they had not shot more than 37 from there.
The Heat’s offense has been a mess, and the reliance on jump shots has been both a cause and an effect. Not only are they prematurely settling for jumpers before they reach their second and third triggers on offense, but they revert to three-balling as a bail out when a set goes haywire. Spoelstra said he believes his team won’t be so passive in Game 3.
“We're an attacking team,” Spoelstra asserted. “We're a free throw shooting team. The 3-point ball is a weapon for us. It's a necessary weapon. It has to happen within the context of establishing our game first.”
Is the old Dwyane Wade back? For the better part of three weeks, an unsettling pattern had emerged for Miami. Wade would appear exhausted toward the end of the first half of games. Curls and cuts he'd normally make as if shot out of a cannon were executed in slow motion. By the midway point in the second quarter of the Chicago series, speculative whispers of sore shoulders, migraines or other mysterious injuries would fill press row and Twitter streams.
Finally, on Thursday night, the old motor was back. Wade buzzed around the court with boundless energy.
He made 11 of 12 shots inside of 15 feet in Game 2, including five slam dunks. He was deadly in transition and converted buckets on many of the Heat's bread-and-butter sets that had gone missing during Wade's lull. And for the first time in a while, he exploded off high ball screens, splitting defenders and devouring paint en route to the basket.
Defensively, he was up to his old tricks. He blocked a couple of shots, shot the gap and harassed the Mavericks for three steals.
The Heat are in for a fight in Dallas, and they must have Wade fully engaged. His long-range exploits in Game 1 were nice, but the Heat really need Wade's aggressiveness attacking the rim, something they got for three quarters in Game 2.
Have the Heat found their running shoes? Had the Heat not melted down and reverted to their worst habits, we'd be reading a lot about "skirmishes," transition basketball and how the Heat rediscovered its lethal fast break in Game 2.
Although a good number of the Heat's points in transition were generated from careless Dallas turnovers, a few opportunities were ignited by Miami's long defenders pinning the likes of Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson in corners then forcing desperate passes.
All told, the Heat scored 18 points in transition on a night in which they couldn't create many good looks at the rim in the half-court offense, nor could they find their way to the line on a consistent basis. When the Heat started to pull away in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter before the epic collapse, they did so on the break. In fact, the Heat scored just as many points in transition during the fourth quarter as they did in the half court.
The Heat don't have to turn Game 3 into a track meet, but they do need to supplement their struggling half-court game with some easy buckets. Over the last 10 games, the Heat have matched their season average in points per possession only once -- Game 3 of the Chicago series. Through two games, Dallas has proven that its defense, with its varied looks in the half court, is no pushover.
Forcing turnovers with selective gambles, traps and pressure on the passing lanes could provide the margin the Heat need.