Mavericks 84 - HEAT 92 Game 1 Recap

MIAMI – Expectedly ugly, Game 1 of the NBA Finals had everything the Miami HEAT want to be on display. Mainly, swarming defense becoming fast, easy offense, skirmishes wrought of both talent and effort leading the HEAT to a 92-84 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

At least, that was in the final 22 minutes of the game, when, after a 7-0 Dallas run to open the second half, Miami outscored its opponent 49-33. The rest of the game was more of a mixed bag.

The combined 33 points in the first quarter was hardly surprising, as each team felt out coverages, dealt with nerves and fought long timeouts as they tried to develop offensive rhythm, but the game quickly developed an identity. One that favored Dallas.

A zone from Dallas was anticipated, but less of a concern headed into this series than it had been in December due to the HEAT facing opponents using zone-principled man-to-man defenses, overloading the ball side, all playoffs. But when the Mavericks finally went to it, the openings on the perimeter were startling to see, and the HEAT couldn’t resist, shooting 1-of-6 from downtown in the first quarter.

“For a while there it was difficult for us to put points on the board,” Erik Spoelstra said.

Typically, a zone is considered busted when the opposing team begins making threes, and it is certainly correct to point to the trio from Mario Chalmers in the second quarter – particularly the corner shots, which Dallas practically conceded – as the loose bricks that felled Dallas’ wall, but there were more reasons than just that.

“They play a lot of zone, and the zone is to pack the paint, keep us out of the paint, dare us to shoot threes,” LeBron James said. “We needed that boost off the bench.”

For one, as is the risk with any defense where players play an area and not a man, the HEAT were free to seek out offensive rebounds at their leisure, and they took nine of them in the first half. Gold, as Chris Bosh called the extra possessions, when each team was in the process of shooting below 40 percent for the evening.

“When you play zones it's tough to find guys to box out,” Bosh said. “That's one thing about zones is when you're playing it, you're not matched up with anybody.”

But even more trying for Dallas was that the HEAT’s offensive mindset, apart from some wavering moments like a Dwyane Wade jumper early in a shot clock, was on point. Once they learned, quickly, not to settle and not to over-aggressively pursue isolation offense when a mismatch presented itself, the adapted offense was rarely wrong.

Wade was cutting through the lane and his teammates were hitting him, but he found either misses or turnovers in the paint in the early going as the Mavericks defended the rim beautifully. The HEAT ran through their progressions, and if they were going to take a three, it was an earned three, created with ball movement that made Dallas work.

All of which is to say, Miami’s offense was actually a few points better than what a 27-27 second-quarter result may indicate. Because the HEAT had patience, and only later in the game did they begin the balancing act of self-created offense and a functional team attack.

An attack that produced 107 points per 100 possessions, despite 2-of-12 shooting between 3-and-9 feet of the rim, to Dallas’ offensive efficiency rating of 97. But the truth is, the Mavericks were likely a few points better than that as well.

How much better will be a point for debate.

It’s true that Dallas is better than 16-of-45 from two-point range no matter what defense is being played, and that its bench is better than 4-of-22 from the field. There were open looks they could have hit throughout the evening that may have stalled a HEAT run or stretched a lead, makes that could have changed the fabric of the game. It’s accurate to say that the Mavericks are capable of even better than 9-of-22 from deep, that they’ll probably hit 15 triples in a future game.

But the HEAT appeared to figure out some things on the defensive end as the second half wore on. Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem figured out both how far from Dirk Nowitzki (7-of-18 for 27 points) they could provide help yet still recover, and how much help they depend on when hedging on pick-and-rolls. And then Spoelstra played his big lineups that prevented Dallas from using three guards, forcing DeShawn Stevenson back on the court in the fourth. This left James to guard Jason Terry while Jose Juan Barea was on the bench.

The result of all of this was that, unless Nowitzki took his man off the dribble immediately off the catch, the middle was too crowded and the Mavericks lacked the speed to create any penetration from the perimeter. The offense became Dirk or die, and with James and Wade surging on the other end, that wasn’t enough to mount a late comeback.

Even if Dallas hits the shots it should hit, if that’s the offense in the fourth quarter, the HEAT may have found its advantage. But one game into a series – one ugly, rhythmless game – is not enough for definitive statements.

“It’s one game and that’s it,” Spoelstra said. “We’re already moving on to Game 2.”

Yet while the HEAT lost the first game of their previous series to a Chicago Bulls team finding an unsustainable amount of success off their own misses, there was little, give or take a couple threes, that was in Miami’s control on Tuesday night that was not sustainable.