Road woes rule the 2006 NBA Finals
A Tale of Two Cities
By Jeff Dengate
MIAMI, June 17, 2006 -- There was more than a change of scenery between Games 2 and 3; There was a major shift in 'Mo': Momentum. Mojo. Mo' games.
Dallas was on its way to a commanding 3-0 lead Tuesday night here in Miami, causing many of us in the traveling road show to curse how badly we over-packed our suitcases and to believe we'd be home in time for Father's Day. Then the Miami players decided to show up, crash the party, extend the series and make me glad after all that I brought along 25 pairs of socks.
The Heat's complete dominance in the late stages of Game 3 and all of Game 4 bring up one central question: Why didn't this team make the trip to Dallas last week? You could pose that a different way: What happened to the Mavs of then, now?
Certainly South Beach could have played a factor. Maybe the Mavs players frolicked in the surf, stayed up after lights-out and just generally felt like they were on vacation? The coach suggested as much -- the vacation part, that is; The rest is my imagination run amok.
"It feels like we weren't focused in the first two games," Devin Harris said at Saturday's practice. "Maybe there's too many distractions at the (Miami) hotel with the family and stuff and whatnot. The change in scenery, hopefully that will do us justice and allow us to focus in on the next game."
That wasn't the case earlier this week.
After Game 3, when Dallas squandered a nearly insurmountable fourth-quarter lead, it's easy to understand how a squad could write that performance off as one of those things that just happen. No big deal. It's also easy to understand how such a team would then be caught off guard two nights later and be run out of the building from start to finish.
But seriously, what happened when the planes departed Dallas that so completely changed this series? It can't be as simple as homecourt advantage and fun in the sun, can it?
Well, yes and no. Let's look at a number of factors involved:
Dwyane Wade's Emergence: More than any other factor weighing on this series, Wade will determine Miami's title hopes. He, and his team, realized that he can not be stopped. Heck, he can't really even be slowed. And now that the realization is out in the open, the Heat is determined to throw him directly at the Mavs defenders until they prove otherwise. As a result of Wade having his way in Games 3 and 4, his Heat teammates have become energized, have gotten better openings and opportunites, and have contributed to the team's overall success.
Bench Production: In Game 1, only three Heat players got off Pat Riley's pine. James Posey netted the only bucket -- one lone bucket good for two points. Two points. Throw Game 2 out the window because the Heat were so completely dominated it doesn't matter that four players combined for 20 points. Flash forward to Game 4, when the Heat had four reserves get 14-plus minutes of burn, combining for 23 points on 8-for-17 shooting. James Posey grabbed 10 boards. Shandon Anderson played the entire second quarter. Alonzo Mourning chipped in six boards and three blocked shots in only 14 minutes of action. When the Heat gets that type of production, they'll be tough to beat.
The Mavs, meanwhile, really didn't get anybody to step up when its starters struggled. In a 30-minute run, Jerry Stackhouse hit only six of his 18 shots. Erick Dampier, despite standing six-feet 11-inches tall, hauled down only four boards. Darrell Armstrong, Keith Van Horn, Marquis Daniels and Josh Powell combined to shoot 0-for-8 -- granted their minutes came during garbage time.
No Nowitzki: Dirk has been all but invisible in two contests in Miami. Despite his 30-point outing in Game 3, Dirk did not play at his best. He was 2-of-7 from three-point range and clanked a crucial free throw at the end of the contest. Some say he choked, given he's a 90 percent free throw shooter.
In Game 4, Nowitzki just never showed up, going 2-of-14 from the field. Credit as much of that to the defense Miami is playing as much as the slump Nowitzki may be going through.
"Udonis (Haslem) and (James) Posey are two different looks we're giving him," Antoine Walker said Saturday. "You're not going to stop him. He's still putting up good numbers in this series. He hasn't shot it that well, but you're not going to stop him from scoring and shooting. He's a guy that likes to get in his comfort zone and get the shots that he likes. we're just trying to take him out of that."
So, how does Nowitzki shake the Heat defenders and his mini-slump?
"I've just got to keep coming and be confident. I know my team is going to be confident in my shots that I take, and we've got to go from there."
Shot Selection: In the first two games in Dallas, Miami settled for far too many outside shots. The same is true, now, for Dallas. In Game 4, they failed to attack the rim, something they found success with for much of the regular season. Even though their shots weren't falling, the Mavs continued to hoist triples, going 3-for-22 from beyond the arc.
In Game 2, the Mavs hit a ton of shots from eight feet and in, whereas in Game 4 more of their attempts came from further out near the top of the key.
On the other side of the ball, the Heat missed from point-blank and from afar in Game 2; There were very few mid-range tries. In Game 4, they were dropping shots from all over the court.
Mavs assistant Rolando Blackman, however, isn't worried about shot selection, so much as execution from his team. "We just have to execute," Blackman said before Saturday's practice. "The rim holds two basketballs and if you keep that concept in your mind, you'll be all right."
Shaq is Back: Forget what they say about Shaq needing more touches. He's been deferring to his teammates much more in this Finals than ever before in his career. No longer is O'Neal the most dominating player in the game. Now, he might not even be the most dominating O'Neal in the league and certainly isn't the most dominating player on his own team. But, you have to give him the ball and expect more out of him than what he was giving in the first two contests. Credit his turnaround to the adjustments Riley made to avoid letting Dirk drop down to double the big fella. Now, by creating spacing on Dallas' secondary bigs, the Mavs are forced to double with smaller players. Shaq has no problem passing out of such a double team or taking the ball up strong over the pair.
Home court: Say what you want, but I'm convinced the home crowd fans have a role in this series. Miami is genuinely louder than the crowd in Dallas. They've all embraced this whole 'White Hot' campaign. They chant "Da-vid Hassel-hoff" with gusto. And when you can drive your own luxury car to the arena, get a home cooked meal and have that kind of support, it certainly has to provide a boost. Likewise, the same is true when the Mavs are at home. Well, except for the noise level; I still give the edge to Miami.
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