Posted May 31 2011 6:38PM - Updated Jun 1 2011 7:02AM
MIAMI -- If you don't beat Miami on a night when the Heat did their best throwback imitation, circa last November, back when the sky fell and the league laughed, then how can you expect to win this series?
This was the chance for Dallas to make a bold move, to steal one, to send a jolt of suspense through the NBA Finals. And that chance eventually vaporized faster than Peja Stojakovic's jumper. Inside a flat American Airlines Arena, Miami delivered one of its weaker performances of the playoffs for all but the final six minutes and still won by an easy eight. Which is how the Mavericks may go down, when and if the Heat turn it back up: Easy.
LeBron James in Game 1? Decent enough performance. Not epic. Nothing like the Chicago series. He did save his sensational best for last, when he gave Shawn Marion whiplash and tornadoed inside for a dunk.
Dwyane Wade? He missed seven of his 10 shots in the first half and didn't awaken until the fourth, which means, just in time.
Chris Bosh? Nice enough start, then he flopped, quite literally, trying to spin his way to the hoop and fell on his stomach.
The Heat shot 38 percent, made a dozen turnovers and still had reason to celebrate after a 92-84 win made possible by shifting and swarming defense and a commitment to rebounding.
"That was a grind," said coach Erik Spoelstra, with some relief.
In the end, Miami once again proved unbeatable at home in the postseason, and had too many stars on the floor, and was just too overwhelming defensively when it counted for the Mavericks, who scored their playoff low, to deal with.
"I thought we did a good job of hanging in," said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. "I thought there were some critical situations where we needed to come up with one loose ball that would've made a difference. But it didn't happen."
No, not after Wade blocked a Marion shot and then followed up with a 3-pointer over Jason Kidd midway in the fourth. That's when Game 1 received a badly-needed coat of brilliance, and when the flow changed for good, and when regret began to settle in for the Mavericks.
"When you hold a team to 38 percent shooting and 92 points, for us, that's a victory," said Marion.
One game into the Finals and the signs don't appear too positive for the Mavericks. Their star, Dirk Nowitzki, who machine-gunned his way past the Blazers, Lakers and especially the Thunder in smashing fashion, dropped the mildest 27 points you'll ever see.
Nowitzki later revealed he had a torn tendon in the middle finger of his left hand. While it's his non-shooting hand, he does use it to balance the ball on his right.
He wasn't the only Maverick having a hard time with his hands. Tyson Chandler played 33 minutes and grabbed four rebounds, one fewer than a gimpy Mike Miller. That allowed Miami to clean up on the offensive glass 16-6. Chandler's replacement, Brendon Haywood, had his shot blocked by the rim. Kid you not; check the replays.
The outside shooting that became the Mavericks' trademark never fell, although perhaps Miami's quick-rotating defense had something to do with that.
But perhaps the most troubling sight for Dallas was a vaguely familiar one.
Only once in the Eastern Conference finals did Wade make half his shots. Quite honestly, his role through much of the playoffs has been more supportive to LeBron. And that didn't appear to change much at the outset of the Finals, when Wade struggled and Miami found itself down eight early in the third quarter.
Then, what happened? The 2006 Finals happened all over again. That's what. Wade developed into a true star in that series, won by Miami after falling in an 0-2 bind. Just as he did then, Wade discovered his touch and mainly his edge and turned into an attacker, scoring 14 of his 22 in the second half and proving too much for the Mavericks to handle.
"I was able to get a few to go in," said Wade. I was very confident. That's all it was. Confidence. And my teammates found me."
Wade reiterated that his left shoulder isn't damaged, which was largely suspected when he spilled into the stands during the series-clinching win over the Celtics. Offensively at least, Wade hasn't looked the same, save for glimpses here and there. Luckily for Miami, one happened in the closer against the Bulls, and again late in Game 1 of the Finals with a big three-pointer.
"Once that went down," said LeBron, "I knew he was feeling pretty good."
If Wade is finally ready to piece together a more complete game, this series could favor Miami in a hurry. If it doesn't already. The Heat will move toward Game 2 knowing their worst effort of the series is possibly behind them, that the home court remains friendly, that Wade and LeBron are two much for one Mavericks star in the moment of truth, and that defense will always be there even when the shots aren't.
"We've got a lot to work on," said LeBron.
Not more than the Mavericks.
There's a reason Texas is called the Lone Star State.
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