Living The Finals
By NBA TV's Rick Kamla
Two games ... two double-digit victories for Dallas. Two games ... two non-Hall-of-Fame performances from the Baddest Big Man Ever. Two games ... two sub-50-percent shooting performances from D-Wade, who shot 62 percent against the Pistons. Two games ... rather, two wins, from a championship for the Mavericks.
That's right, freaks, it's time to stick a fork in the Heat because the only intrigue left in the 2006 NBA Finals is how many games it takes the Mavericks to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Avery is succeeding where his Eastern Conference coaching counterparts failed, as they played Shaq honest more often that not. Well, Avery is determined not to let the three-time Finals MVP beat him, leaving it up to the supporting cast to knock down shots. Seems like a simple strategy, but a trio of solid coaches, Scott Skiles, Lawrence Frank, and Flip Saunders, weren’t able to figure that out during the Eastern Conference playoffs.
With the Heat down only six at the 1:20 mark of the second quarter, Jerry Stackhouse went on a personal 10-0 run that pushed the lead to 50-34 at the break. Stack’s epic run was highlighted by a four-point play that infuriated Wade to the point of receiving a technical foul. Stack pulled off only the seventh four-point play in Finals history, but Josh Howard did it again in the third quarter, making them the first teammates to go for 4 in the same Finals game.
In the span of 80 seconds, what looked like a competitive ballgame morphed into a blowout, rendering the final 24 minutes little more than garbage time. The Heat have now trailed at the half seven times in these playoffs and have lost every time. If the Heat want to win Game 3, they need to close the first half strong. The Mavs ended the first half of Game 1 on an 10-0 run.
WARRIOR OF THE GAME
Udonis Haslem, runner-up Unsung Hero in Game 1, once again garners dap in this space for playing through a painful left shoulder injury suffered in a mid-air collision with Jason Terry. The impact sent both players to the floor harshly, but Haslem came out worse for the wear.
After gamely attempting to remain in the game, even getting to the rim for a two-handed rim-rocker at one point, Haslem finished the game on the bench -- for “precautionary reasons”, per Pat Riley -- with the shoulder wrapped in ice. Fret not, Heat fans, as your team’s best overall defender vows to play in Game 3.
GAME 2 HERO
Part of me wants to say Stack was the hero for turning the game with his 10-point scoring binge, but I’m giving the nod to Dirk Nowitzki because a) he had the best line (26 and 16) and b) he did an incredible job of rebounding and playing active defense in the second quarter without picking up his third foul. The Heat were driving it right at Dirk to draw foul No. 3, but the second German-born player to appear in the Finals played with the requisite intelligence, vigilance, and athleticism to avoid the tweet.
For the second straight game, Erick Dampier is the Unsung Hero. If this keeps happening we may remove the adjective and just leave it at hero. Damp pulled a career-playoff high 13 rebounds in Game 2, matching Shaq’s rebound total for the series. Led by Damp, the Mavs out-rebounded the Heat by 14, and it’s no coincidence the final margin of victory was 14 as well.
Hate to kick The Godfather when he’s down, but I call ‘em like I see ‘em and Shaq might have been the worst player on the floor in Game 2. The 34-year-old seemed to have his size 78s stapled to the floor, as smaller, less sexy earthlings were getting over and around him for rebounds. His five points and two field goals were both career-playoff lows, and in missing six of seven free throws, he is now 2-of-16 from the stripe in the series. And when you merge those frightening stats with the must-win vibe surrounding Game 2, this may go down as the worst game Shaq ever played.
Is Shaq showing his age? You tell me. In 190 career playoff games, Shaq has been in double figures 187 times, and two of the unders have come in these playoffs. He may be wiser at 34, but he isn’t any better.
It’s time to start planning the parade in downtown Dallas. Of the 27 teams that have taken a 2-0 series lead in the Finals, 25 of them (93 percent) have won it all. The only exceptions were the 1969 Celtics and the 1977 Trail Blazers. But those legendary teams came back within the context of the 2-2-1-1-1 format. Since the NBA Finals went to the current 2-3-2 format in 1985, no team has rallied all the way back from 0-2.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
I have been a gigantic fan of Pat Riley ever since he guided my Showtime Lakers to four titles in the '80s (Riley was an assistant to Paul Westhead for the first of their five titles in the '80s), but he’s currently on my nerves for whining at the post-game podium.
“Everybody has written our team off, even in Chicago,” Riley said following the Game 2 blowout. “Then we were history again (in the New Jersey series). So even when we were ahead 3-1 (against Detroit), we were history. I’m sure we’re history right now.”
First of all, no one -- not even the ghosts of Harry Carey and Chris Farley -- said the Heat was history during the Chicago series. Many of us questioned how a championship-caliber team could be tied at two with a play-in team like the Bulls, but I don’t recall anyone eulogizing the Heat in Round 1.
I’ll give him the New Jersey series, as a lot of so-called experts not named Kamla picked the Nets to extinguish the Heat. But how he could say the basketball world was counting out the Heat with a 3-1 lead over the Pistons is melodramatic garbage. I mean, that’s as asinine as Chauncey Billups saying the pressure was on the Heat heading back to Miami for Game 6. Whatever. (Perhaps if Chauncey had embraced the pressure of that death game, he and the Pistons could have forced a Game 7.)
But none of those series or Pat’s woe-is-me nonsense matters in the 2006 NBA Finals. The only thing that matters at this point is whether the Heat can make things interesting with a Game 3 victory, and whether tropical storm Alberto will allow any of us to work in a round of golf.
-- In an effort to get Riley into the Best Chessmove bit, I humbly submit a couple suggestions that likely will evoke a collective scoff from the Heat nation.
1. Enough with Jason Williams handling the rock. Yeah, he can still turn the corner at 30, but he isn’t finishing consistently enough when he gets to the rim.
2. Riley needs to hand the car keys to Wade and leave them there. He is by far Miami’s best player and he needs to be the decision maker on every possession. No, he isn’t a true point guard, but Ben Affleck isn’t a true actor -- yet movie houses insist on paying him mega money to “act”.
3. Finally, in an effort to facilitate ball movement, establish a defensive presence in the first quarter, and give the bench a shot in the arm in terms of scoring, James Posey needs to start for Antoine “The Chucker” Walker. (Is it just me, or is 'Toine the dude at the club who thinks he’s way better than he actually is?)
-- Remember the first quarter of Game 1, when the Heat led 31-23 after 12 minutes? Well, in the subsequent seven quarters, they averaged 19 points. Sweet.
-- For all those who think this series is destined to make it back to Dallas, consider the fact that the Mavericks closed out Memphis, San Antonio, and Phoenix on the road. I’m not saying, just sayin’.
My pre-series prediction was Dallas in seven. However, in light of the whole old dudes vs. young dudes gap in this series, I’m amending that prediction to Dallas in six. Remember, there was talk of sweep last year at this time when the Spurs took a 2-0 series lead up to Detroit, where the Pistons won Games 3 and 4, and ultimately forced a seventh game.
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