Mavs 95 - HEAT 93 Game 2 Recap

MIAMI – There was the first 41 minutes of this game and there was everything that came after. Hundreds of thousands of discussions will be held on the latter, so before we get there, let’s revisit the details that threaten to fade into memory, but still matter.

That’s not an excuse to talk about the highlights. The Miami HEAT may have had more dunks on this evening than on any other since their inception, but we don’t learn anything from the act of the dunk. We learn from the how that came before, when the HEAT were getting 31 points off 20 Dallas Mavericks turnovers, turnovers created both by Miami’s defensive tenacity and some curious carelessness with the ball on Dallas’ part.

We know the HEAT can finish in transition (16 fast-break points) and create turnovers. If the Mavericks commit another 20 giveaways in every game for the rest of the series, this could all be over very quickly. Shooting 46.6 percent, as the HEAT did tonight, might be enough to take three of the next five games. Getting 36 points from Dwyane Wade and another 14 from Mike Bibby, as due for a good shooting night as anyone in the playoffs has ever been, should often suffice.

But the how of those results, silly as these intangible things can be to discuss in a rational discussion, was quite different from the how of a 22-5 Dallas run over the final seven minutes of the game, a run that tied the NBA Finals, 1-1.

There was a different look, or aura or feel or even sensibility, to Miami when it was fencing Dallas onto the edge of a very high ledge, taking a 15-point lead five minutes into the fourth quarter. Yes, they were forcing turnovers and getting dunks, but the HEAT were working in fifth gear just to get those turnovers, confidence unwavering in the open court. They were enjoying various degrees of unsustainable success from mental mistakes from the likes of Jason Kidd, from defensive gambles going the right way, from good bounces on rebounds and from unassisted jumpers falling at the flick of the off-balance wrist. But they were winning.

Particularly during a 9-0 run to tie things up at the end of the first half that, at the time, had the feel of a definitive segment. The sequence that destroyed Dallas’ best shot.

But once Bibby’s shooting had passed and Dallas got all its synapses firing in the right places, after the onset of a drought of workable airspace, after the freedom of the open floor became a half-court cell, Miami entered survival mode.

The HEAT have thrived in the playoffs with a delicate balance of patient offense and the success of individual abilities, so when Wade hit a three in front of Dallas’ bench in the fourth quarter to take a 15-point lead, nothing seemed off. As much as the narrative will dictate, the Mavericks did not gain positive momentum in the ensuing timeout.

Rather, Miami started shuffling its feet down the slippery slope in its ensuing offensive possessions. It earned a stop out of the timeout, but as the HEAT gathered on offense to try and extend the lead, the balance was lost. Wade missed a three, Jason Terry scored on the other end, and the HEAT kept swinging away, with Mario Chalmers then missing a triple.

“At the end of the game to not be able to execute and move the ball and find an open shot,” Erik Spoelstra said. “We were running the clock down to the end. That's not been a successful formula now for us for the last three months.”

Instead of executing with strength, Miami allowed the Mavericks to dictate their offensive movements as pick-and-rolls were pushed further and further until the ballhandler was avoiding a back-court violation, swarmed by a pair of defenders off the screen.

“They didn't do that till the fourth quarter,” LeBron James said. “They picked up the aggression and it got us out of the flow of the offense where we were taking shots at the end of the shot clock.”

The potential healing salve came with 5:30 remaining and Miami still up 11. James rallied an offensive purpose from the right wing and drove the lane, where he met little resistance. But where he had dunked all night long, he left a finger-roll short on the rim. Rather than being up 13 with Dallas taking the ball out-of-bounds, the Mavericks ran down, earned a pair of free throws, and it was a single-digit game.

The rest, other than some James free throws, was jumpers. The HEAT didn’t get into offensive sets until the mid-teens on the shot clock, didn’t find comfortable paths to desired spots, and scrambled. Yes, this team is built on defense, and both Wade and James pointed to that end afterwards, but what the it was that happened, it happened on offense first.

“Really, I think offensively if we could have executed and moved the ball, we might have been able to stem the tide a little bit, even as poor as we were defensively down the stretch,” Spoelstra said. “It was highly uncharacteristic for us on both ends of the court.”

No further details are necessary. The rest is emotion, and unless there is carryover, it wasn’t indicative of a HEAT weakness any more than it was of Chicago when it happened to the Bulls a series ago. The Mavericks won because they hit the emergency stop button on Miami’s treadmill, but there was little exploitation involved. Just shotmaking, a steady diet of Shawn Marion – who, really, was Dallas’ most valuable performer – and the HEAT losing balance. A clean slate on Sunday is just a few film sessions and a deep breath away.