HEAT 103 - Mavs 112 Game 5 Recap

DALLAS – When a team shoots 65.7 percent and 5-of-7 from downtown in the first half, the logical thing to do is to expect a fairly severe regression to the mean in the second half.

But some basketball games escape all logic and reason, and after the Dallas Mavericks only dropped to 47 percent and 8-of-12 from three in the second half to take a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals, it was clear that for the Miami HEAT, this was one of those games.

“We threw in some difficult shots,” Rick Carlisle said. “But when you play as hard as we’ve been playing, the basketball gods tend to be kind to you.”

Divine intervention or no, the HEAT are one game away from their season coming to an end not only because the Mavericks came up with the offensive tour-de-force that they’ve always been capable off, scoring 125.8 points per 100 possessions with six unassisted threes, but because Miami keeps missing golden opportunities. They’ve had a 15-point wither away in Game 2, lost a nine-point lead to a 15-4 fourth-quarter run in Game 4, couldn’t capitalize when Dallas missed eight-straight shots after that run and couldn’t sustain momentum in Game 5 after taking a four-point lead with 4:37 to play.

Those are the reasons why Miami either wins or literally goes home this Sunday, but for the first time all series Thursday, the defense was also at fault.

There’s no accounting for many of Dallas’ shots in Game 5, particularly Jason Terry’s contested three with 33.8 seconds remaining to drop the hammer, but the Mavericks also hadn’t had nearly the total of open looks at any other time in the series.

Miami doubled not only Dirk Nowitzki but other ballhandlers more that it had before – these were often the same as gambling in the passing lane and could have easily created more than Dallas’ 11 turnovers – and as a result the HEAT’s defense was often one spot over rotated. If it wasn’t Nowitzki open around the free-throw line or Tyson Chandler cutting unhindered toward the rim, it was a wide-open shooter, as Jason Kidd was on a three to put Dallas up five with 1:26 to play.

If those open looks aren’t there, maybe Dallas doesn’t develop such offensive comfort. Or if the Mavericks shoot even average on contested looks, maybe those open shots don’t cripple the HEAT as much as they did. That game can be played until the end of time, but of all the factors that go into a contest, one of the few Miami can control on a regular basis is how many players it leaves open.

“For the most part we’ve been doing a good job defensively, especially in the fourth quarter,” Chris Bosh said. “We had a lapse today. It won’t happen again, it can’t happen again.”

Surely, that will be one of the first items on Spoelstra’s list as the HEAT turn to dissecting the tape.

Dire though the situation may seem, there is reason for optimism over the next two days. Namely because, for a near-complete game, Miami’s offense was as good as it’s been all postseason.

An offensive efficiency of 115.7 would normally be enough to beat any team at this defense-heavy stage of the year, but more importantly it was efficient offense by way of individual talents shooting high percentages. The HEAT’s 25 assists on 37 field goals rule that out entirely. And that efficiency isn’t inflated by abnormal three-point shooting numbers either, as Miami shot 8-of-20, solid but hardly unsustainable.

Instead, we were offered a glimpse of exactly what so many have wanted from the HEAT’s offense all year, and what we’ve only seen sporadically since playoff-defenses have loaded up the ball-side of every set.

For starters, there was James in the post, not merely posting up to draw a double team, but with teammates setting screens on the weakside and James fighting for position under the rim with the intent of scoring. In five post-ups that ended with a shot, turnover or foul, James shot 2-of-3, committed one turnover and drew one foul. And that’s not counting the possessions where James was still doubled, and passed out to an open player for one of his 10 assists, four of which were for threes.

Then there was the HEAT getting their most talented scorers in motion without the ball. Between James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, that group scored seven assisted baskets at the rim. And when it wasn’t those players scoring, the HEAT ran sets that combined pick-and-rolls on the wing with high-low post play, the ballhandler passing to the elbow man who in turn looked for the screener cutting to the rim.

It was offense like this – not the gravy three Wade hit to put the HEAT up four with 4:37 to play – that had Miami in position to earn the win despite so much going in Dallas’ favor. Miami’s first seven field goals of the fourth quarter came on assists, many of them in simple screen-heavy half-court sets, the same sets that deflated the HEAT’s offense at the end of Game 4, with the addition of increased team activity completely changing the nature of the beast.

“We played good enough to win, again,” James said. “Put ourselves in position to win down the stretch. Guys made plays, and they made a few more than we did.”

The HEAT can take solace in that, in being in position to win each game of this series at one point or another. Some may choose to see it as a weakness, that Miami has an incapacity to close big games, but the real truth lies in the fickle nature of the game. Even as you sort out a fragment or two of your strategy, basketball is not a chessboard, with static pieces waiting for one part of the board to change at a time. Everything is changing in a quarter, a game or a series, and sometimes those changes defy logic.

All we know is that if Dallas was deserving of the reasonless benefits for this one game, the HEAT, having proven themselves the equals of their opponent, are just as due.

“That’s why you play a seven game series,” Spoelstra said. “To play it out.”