NBA Championship Preview

by Jeff Fogle 30. May 2011 16:07

The Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat take the floor Tuesday night to start the 2011 NBA Finals. Both teams have shown offensive versatility and defensive creativity to get this far. Both teams feature players who will go down among the all-time greats in the game. Only one team, though, will get to lift the Larry O'Brien trophy several days from now. Let’s run through the possibilities…

Looking at things from an “outside the arc/inside the arc” perspective has been helpful through the postseason. You could make the case that Dallas has been so dominant because of their advantages from long range.

Made Treys:
Dallas 46, Portland 30
Dallas 49, LA Lakers 15 (!!)
Dallas 38, Oklahoma City 22

Miami is such a potent force inside the arc on both sides of the ball that they’ve basically pounded Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago into submission.

Miami’s Series Differentials on 1’s and 2’s:
+49 points vs. Philadelphia
+46 points vs. Boston
+44 points vs. Chicago

All of those Miami matchups went five games. So, the Heat were about +9 to +10 points on average per game inside the arc. Defensively, they guarded the arc well enough to discourage opponents from trumping them with treys.

We could stop right there and just say it’s the outside game of Dallas vs. the inside game of Miami with a good chance of pegging the proceedings. The problems with that are:

*Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas is obviously a force inside the arc. So…it’s not like this is a David vs. Goliath series where Dallas has to hope they hit 15 treys per game to win.

*Miami is capable of making treys if they need to. They’ve had success attacking the basket to such a degree so far that they haven’t been trying as many treys as others. Should Dallas find a way to take the inside game away, a Miami team that averaged more than 6.5 treys per game in the regular season can certainly at least hang in the neighborhood with Dallas from long range.

*Both of these coaches have been very creative defensively in the playoffs. And, the talent has been very passionate about executing that creativity. We’re talking about two SMART teams who BADLY want to win championships this year (with Nowitzki and Jason Kidd of Dallas realizing that time is running out for Dallas, while LeBron James wants to finally "get on the board" in his quest for history). Miami’s defense isn’t going to sit idly by and watch Dallas nail trey after trey. Dallas isn’t going to cower in a shell while Miami dunks on their heads. The “chess in sneakers” element of this series could make things very interesting indeed.

I’ll still use the “outside the arc/inside the arc” framework. I’ll use those headers to look at an overlooked stat or two (or three) that I didn't see mentioned in the multiple series previews that I read over the weekend. 

OUTSIDE THE ARC


Dallas has more scary threats from behind the arc than Miami does. You have to assume Dallas is going to win long range scoring until reality changes any minds.  That being said, check out these percentages from the last round...

Three-Point Shooting in Conference Finals
Miami: 34% (20 of 58)
Dallas: 33% (38 of 116)

The barrage that buried the LA Lakers largely disappeared. Oklahoma City was able to disrupt what Dallas wanted to do from behind the arc as the Western Conference Finals progressed. In fact, Dallas was just 29 of 93 in the last four games (28%). Miami’s not going to be in tears if Dallas is going 7 of 21 or 8 of 25 on treys.

We talked about the Lakers being “giraffes” and the Thunder being “gazelles” in terms of athleticism guarding the arc. Dallas only shot 33% against the gazelles. Miami’s a lot closer to being gazelles than giraffes on defense.
 
I also noticed something that may or may not be an issue. Dallas showed signs of fatigue on their long shots the deeper a series went. That was never an issue against slow-footed Los Angeles in a sweep.

Dallas versus Portland
27 of 60 in first three games (45%!)
19 of 61 in last three games (31%)

Dallas versus Oklahoma City
9 of 23 in Game One (39%)
29 of 93 after that (28%)

This may be hinting that Dallas will be in trouble in the latter stages of a long series.

INSIDE THE ARC


It’s tempting to give Miami the nod because they have two all-time superstars and Dallas has just one, and because of the dominance on 1’s and 2’s that we discussed earlier. Maybe that nod is justified. Maybe not.

*Dallas just faced a team with two very dynamic scoring threats. Kevin Durant shot 30 of 83 outside of two feet in that series (36%). Russell Westbrook was 17 of 68 shooting outside of two feet (25%!).

Dallas tries to coerce you into shooting from spots away from your comfort zone. (And, when Mark Cuban says something like “Hey, pinhead, you’re forgetting about defensive adjustments,” this is part of what he’s trying to make us see!). We’re about to learn where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade don’t like to shoot from. Possibly Chris Bosh too…though it can be hard to simultaneously disrupt that trifecta on each and every possession.

*I think the most overlooked story for the Miami Heat in the Eastern Finals was how much they struggled offensively. Yes, Chicago has a great defense (which was also probably forcing LeBron and Wade into non-sweet spots). That great defense disrupted a lot of what Miami was trying to do. At key moments in the series, the Heat did hit some guarded three-pointers. People remember that. And, the fact that a few consecutively happened late in Game Five when Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem were also on the floor may be creating some illusions about Miami’s “dream lineup.” Let’s step back and take an overview.

In Game One, Miami scored 82 points on 85 possessions…only made 3 treys…only attempted 15 free throws…and turned the ball over 16 times. This was the game Miami LOST, so it’s been erased from memory to a degree.

In Game Two, Miami scored 85 points on 85 possessions…only made 3 treys, got to the free throw line more often but only made 18…and turned the ball over 15 times. This was a win…a very low scoring win keyed by their own defensive play.

In Game Three, things really did click. Miami scored 96 points on 85 possessions…cut their turnovers to just 10…and marched to the free throw line for 25 makes in 29 attempts. The Miami offense that people think of as standard fare actually did show up here in the data.

In Game Four, Miami only had 85 points in regulation on about 94 possessions (estimating from the 104 for the game). They did start to light up the scoreboard in overtime. And, they did that vs. Boston too in the last round. Let’s give the Heat credit for their endurance. You don’t want to take your chances with Miami in overtime! But, in regulation, this was another struggle. This was Miami’s worst shooting game of the series to this point. They committed 15 turnovers. Attacking the basket allowed them to go 32 of 38 from the free throw line, giving them a huge edge in that stat.

In Game Five, Miami shot even worse and scored 83 points on 90 possessions…and that took an amazing finish where they scored 18 points on their last 7 possessions (three made treys, with a four-point play on one of those). That means, Miami struggled to 65 points on 83 possessions before the dramatic surge that launched them into the NBA Finals. Extremely unproductive offense most of the night.

So, in regulation, that’s
82 points in 85 possessions (efficiency mark of 96.5)
85 points in 85 possessions (efficiency mark of 100.0)
96 points in 85 possessions (efficiency mark of 112.9)
85 points in 94 possessions (efficiency mark of 90.4)
83 points in 90 possessions (efficiency mark of 92.2)

The regulation efficiency for the series was 98.4…but the median is 96.5…and the Heat only topped a point per possession once in regulation over the five games.

Is this irrelevant because Chicago plays such fantastic defense nobody can score on them? Let’s look at what happened when Chicago played Atlanta.

Atlanta’s Offensive Efficiencies vs. Chicago:
Game One: 115.7
Game Two: 81.1
Game Three: 100.0
Game Four: 108.7
Game Five: 100.0
Game Six: 83.9
For the series, Atlanta registered at 98.2, with a median of 100. Better than Miami.

Maybe Chicago kicked things up a notch. And, maybe Miami was so focused on defense that they lost some of their form on offense. Just be aware that it’s an offense that can be slowed down. Dallas is far from a sure thing to get bowled over by the Miami stars in this series. 

*Officiating could play a very big role because both teams want to attack the basket with their star scorers…and both teams want to get the other team’s star scorers in foul trouble. Look at the extremes we saw from the line in the last series.

Miami’s Free Throws vs. Chicago (in game order):
15 of 15
18 of 24
25 of 29
32 of 38
25 of 33

Dallas’ Free Throws vs. Oklahoma City (in game order):

34 of 36
21 of 24
14 of 18
34 of 39
31 of 36

That’s a range of teens to high 30’s with two teams who were trying to attack against defenses that didn’t mind fouling them. Quite a wildcard that’s out of everyone’s control to a degree. We may see an 88-86 game were the refs swallow their whistles…a 108-104 game where everything is called…or blowouts in either direction if a home team is flying into the 30’s in free throw attempts when the visitors are in the teens.

A lot of question marks so far. I know a lot of preview write-ups are generally of the “Here’s what’s going to happen” variety. Some pundits/writers will end up being right. Some pundits/writers will end up being wrong. The names will change the next time around. More fun I think to outline the possibilities, particularly in THIS particular chess match.

Additional points to ponder…

*Is Dirk really unstoppable? He’s about to face the toughest defense he’s seen in the playoffs by a mile. Those picking a Dallas upset are suggesting he is. Nick Collison of OKC showed that Dirk can be bothered if you crowd him when he’s holding the ball down low before he starts his shooting process. Dirk was just 23 of 45 from the floor in the last three games after shooting 22 of 32 in the first two. 

*Is Miami’s five-man rotation of James-Wade-Bosh-Haslem-Miller really so strong that nobody has a chance against them over a best-of-seven?  They do have an impressive plus-minus so far in limited time together. That limited time includes some successful but low-percentage guarded three-pointers that may have polluted the small sample size.

*Are there spots that James and Wade are so uncomfortable shooting from that a few days of misses could swing the series toward Dallas? Are they so stubborn that they’d keep shooting from those spots even when they keep missing?

*What’s going to happen when Jose Juan Barea zips through the paint right into Udonis Haslem?  Should we shield our eyes? Or, will what happens turn the series in favor of Dallas because the refs will try to control physicality?

So many questions, with any being the potential difference-maker in what could turn out to be a very entertaining series. The answers will appear before our eyes on the hardwood over the next several days.

Numbers and notes from Game One will go up Tuesday near midnight. See you then…

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LeBron's Legacy Aloft

by Jeff Fogle 27. May 2011 00:19

A trey from LeBron James with 2:06 left cut the Miami Heat's Game Five deficit to 77-72. A trey with 1:00 left knotted the score at 79. A 21-foot jumper with 0:29 put Miami on top of the Chicago Bulls for the first time since the first quarter. Moments later, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were taking their talents back to South Beach...ready to host Game One of the NBA Championships...

Nobody's talking about quitting on Cleveland. Nobody's talking about an inability to make big shots when everything is on the line. Nobody's even talking any more about Derrick Rose being the more valuable player. The question now is...will LeBron win his first championship this year, as he tries to take the first huge step in chasing down the legendary Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever.

We'll talk more about that over the next two weeks. First things first...

MIAMI 83, CHICAGO 80
2-point pct: Miami 39%, Chicago 37%
3-pointers: Miami 6/15, Chicago 7/21
Free Throws: Miami 25/33, Chicago 15/21
Turnovers: Miami 15, Chicago 10
1's and 2's: Miami 65, Chicago 59

Given the dramatic rally from a dozen down with under four minutes to go, the most obvious comparison is to Dallas/Oklahoma City in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals.

*Both games saw the ROAD team rally to beat the home team(!).

*Dallas went on a 17-2 run to finish regulation, Miami on a 19-4 run.

*Both games saw the home team continue to make miscues and misfires because an inexperienced point guard didn't know what to do againt a brick wall defense set up to disrupt his plans.

*Both games saw superstars lead their team back with clutch bucket after clutch bucket. We have to throw Dwyane Wade into that mix as well. Wade caught fire after a few-game walkabout that looks to be related to an injury the Heat won't discuss. D-Wade had a huge 4-point play that knocked the breath out of Bulls nation. That's the breath they couldn't find when they needed a last gasp.

*And, obviously, both games were won by teams who will be now be battling in the NBA Championships that begin Tuesday in Miami.

Let's wrap up the threads we've been monitoring throughout the Miami-Chicago matchup, starting with Miami shutting down Derrick Rose because it turned out to be most important theme of the series...

Rose This Series:
Game One: 10 of 22 for 28 points (Chicago's win)
Game Two: 7 of 23 for 21 points
Game Three: 8 of 19 for 20 points
Game Four: 8 of 26 for 23 points in regulation
Game Five: 9 of 28 for 25 points

Before Game Four, Rose talked about getting more aggressive. That just led to more missed shots and more turnovers. He was 32 of 96 in regulation in the Bulls' four losses, exactly 33% from the field.

Tonight's clampdown inside the arc vs. Rose and his cohorts was the most restrictive yet.

Chicago Scoring on 1's and 2's:
Game One: 73 points
Game Two: 66 points
Game Three: 70 points
Game Four: 72 points in regulation
Game Five: 59 points

When Chicago led by 12 with just under four minutes to go, I was planning to write up some notes on how they "bounced back" to get a win despite not doing anything better on offense. They were still struggling. They just happened to be holding Miami to a very low total. A recurring lesson, don't plan your lead paragraph until the game is actually over! Not even late double digit leads are safe in the 2011 playoffs. Especially if your offense can't break 85 points.

Another theme was going to be about how Chicago had continued to hold its own against the James/Wade combo with Rose and Luol Deng even though Rose wasn't playing to regular season levels. That was until the 17-3 finish for the tag team champs.

Big Two:
James and Wade: 49 points
Rose and Deng: 43 points

Big Three:
James, Wade, and Bosh: 69 points
Rose, Deng, and Boozer: 48 points

Carlos Boozer disappeared tonight, scoring just five points on 1 of 6 shooting in 26 minutes.

As we saw in Dallas-Oklahoma City, this was a 4-1 series that was much more evenly matched than a five-game elimination would suggest. Chicago was in position to win Game Four on two late possessions, then needed an epic offensive meltdown here to blow a late lead in Game Five. Both series losers were a few plays away from being up 3-2. Experience matters. Having a real plan of attack matters late in close games. I'm still not that fond of asking LeBron to make guarded treys over and over again. But, they keep falling so who's to argue? (Me, the next time it fails!). Ultimately, BOTH Dallas and Miami aren't playing quite as well as 4-1 would suggest, so it cancels out.

I'm planning to have an expanded preview up Monday night just before the Finals start. For now, let's match what we did last night and make a list of what Miami is doing well at the moment.

*Defense inside the arc has been stellar. James and Wade were already known for their defense, as was this team as a whole. The return of Udonis Haslem made the brick wall even tougher to deal with. On two's through the series, Chicago shot 42%, 40%, 42%, 46%, and 37%.

*Defense outside the arc was great after the first game. Chicago won the opener with a big boost from a 10 of 21 performance on treys. Miami didn't let that happen again, and Chicago didn't win again. In the last four games, Chicago was 3/20, 5/12, 6/24, and 7/21 on treys. That's a combined 21 of 77 from long range for just 27%. The two-point equivalent is 40.9%...even worse than the norms from inside the arc.

*And, Miami wasn't sending Chicago to the free throw line! That's all there is...1's, 2's, and 3's. The Bulls only made 17, 16, 16, 17, and 15 free throws in order over the five games. Miami was attacking the basket more succesfully. It paid off with a line of 15, 18, 25, 32, and 25 makes.

You heard the Heat players emphasizing defense in their interviews. This is what they were talking about. This wasn't a series where they had to sacrifice one thing to focus on something else. They had all the relevant bases covered because Chicago didn't have enough weaponry to spread everyone out. That will change in the Finals.

*Chris Bosh became a more consistent big game scoring threat. There were doubts in some circles that he would thrive under the playoff spotlight. In an awkward, sluggish series known for long dry spells, Bosh's soft touch was a sight for sore eyes. It's easy to overlook the fact that Bosh scored 30 of the team's 82 points in the series opener, 34 of the team's 96 points in their home opener, and 20 of 83 points in tonight's clincher. He averaged 23.2 per game for a team that was only averaging 89.4 per game.

Enjoy the weekend. Back with you Monday night with an expanded look at the NBA Championships featuring the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat...

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Dallas Wraps Up the West

by Jeff Fogle 26. May 2011 00:57

They had to come from behind again. But, we've learned this week that the Dallas Mavericks know how to close out a game, and the Oklahoma City Thunder don't! Let's take a look at some additional Dallas strong points in their 4-1 Western Conference Championship series victory...

First, the numbers from Wednesday's Game Five.

DALLAS 100, OKLAHOMA CITY 96

2-point pct: OKC 45%, Dallas 47%
3-pointers: OKC 5/16, Dallas 5/20
Free Throws: OKC 21/25, Dallas 31/36
1's and 2's: OKC 81, Dallas 85

It may not have felt like a free throw game while you were watching. But, for the second time in a row, Dallas had a big edge from the charity stripe. They were +10 in makes and +11 in attempts here, +15 in makes and +14 in attempts back on Monday in their Maverick Miracle. Treys were a wash, which would normally be bad news for Dallas. The Mavericks were outscored by six points on deuces too. They kept attacking the basket and marching to the line.

(Hint #1 for the NBA Finals...Dallas will clearly make it a point of emphasis to get the Miami stars into foul trouble. Mark Cuban commented on this before the Lakers series. It ended up not mattering there. A 65 of 75 mark from the line in the last two games vs. OKC suggests a line of attack we'll be seeing again next week).

I've spent a lot of time focusing on what OKC was doing wrong this series (because Russell Westbrook is giving me Stephon Marbury and Gilbert Arenas flashbacks---Westbrook's age 22 season is almost a dead ringer for Marbury's, with a difference being that his Usate Rate was even higher---Westbrook's Usage Rate this year was more in line with Arenas at his ball-hoggiest--making him a potentially implosive hybrid if the maturity process doesn't go as hoped). Let's focus tonight on what Dallas has been doing right.

Here's a list in no particular order...

*Dallas won turnovers in every game this series. They had been concerned about turnovers setting up cheap points for Portland back in the first round. This is a team that can get burned by opposition fast break points if they're sloppy with the ball (Nowitzki referenced that in his past-game interview with Doris Burke). In order, they won 12-13, 12-14, 12-14, 13-25, and 12-13. One of those quiet, relatively hidden things that can loom large in games that go down to the wire.

*Dallas won or tied three-point volume in every game this series. It was only a big edge in two games rather than every time out. But, this is something nice to have in your hip pocket whenever you take the floor. Game-by-game makes were 9-7, 9-7, 7-1, 8-2, and 5-5.

Counting on 7-9 in general brings comfort of course. Let's not forget though that Dallas has shown a consistent knack for inflicting horrible long range performances on playoff opponents. It's still up for debate about how much is defense and how much is luck. Here are OKC's three-point percentages by game:

44% (equivalent to 66% on two's)
39% (equivalent to 58% on two's)
 6% (equivalent to 9% on two's!!)
15% (equivalent to 23% on two's)
31% (equivalent to 47% on two's)

After a shaky start, Dallas held Oklahoma City to 8 of 46 on treys the last three games. Ironically, this may not matter much in the Finals because Miami hasn't been shooting many treys lately (3/8, 3/13, 3/9, 5/13). Should Chicago rally back, they haven't been anything special on treys since the Eastern Conference opener themselves.

Let's say it's mostly defense, with a little bit of luck helping to create the 1 of 17 (OKC), 2 of 20 (LAL), 2 of 16 (Portland), 2 of 13 (OKC) type performances.

*It would take a lengthy X's and O's treatise that I'm not qualified to do, but it's pretty safe to say that Dallas made sure that each individual OKC player had to shoot from places they weren't comfortable shooting from. The options for OKC were to run a gauntlet to the basket for a score or a foul (largely attempted by Westbrook, Durant, and Harden)...or, shoot a guarded shot from a non-sweet spot.

And, give OKC credit for running that gauntlet! The Thunder either shot at least 48% on two's, or attempted 30+ free throws in every game until tonight's.

OKC's Gauntlet Run
Game One: 48% on two's, AND 37 of 43 on FT's
Game Two: 62% on two's, but just 21 of 26 on FT's
Game Three: 46% on two's, but 32 of 36 on FT's
Game Four: 52% on two's, but 19 of 25 on FT's
Game Five: 45% on two's, 21 of 25 on FT's

Games 1-2-4 were 48% or higher on two's, Games 1 and 3 saw a high number of free throws.

Dallas doesn't have a bunch of defensive stoppers. But, they use experience, schematics, and brains to disrupt what they can to maximum effect. We're about to learn where the Miami Heat stars don't like to shoot from. And, we're about to see them fly at the basket because that's better than forcing up poor shots from non-sweet spots.

*Dallas wasn't able to fully redefine offensive efficiency, as the super-fantastic performances from Game 4 of LAL and Game 1 here turned out to be temporary peaks. They did maintain better than a point-per-possession scoring ratio in the other games (which can be tough to do consistently in playoff wrestling matches). And, they did that despite hitting just 30% of their treys over the last three outings.

I focused on team issues in the list above. Obviously Dirk Nowitzki's consistently high level of play is a big positive as well. I think the media's done a very good job of capturing that story. Wanted to list some keys that haven't been discussed as much, but will likely be important in the next round. We'll talk more about the finals once it's time to run an in-depth preview.  First, some quick concerns for Dallas:

*They were outrebounded in all five games of this series.

*Their SIGNIFICANT edge over OKC in having a gameplan in nailbiters may or may not help them as much in the next round. It's not like Miami has knocked everyone's socks off in buzzer games this year. But, the Heat at least have a few guys who have been in playoff nailbiters many times before and won't be in awe of the moment. Let's review how close all five games were from the Dallas perspective.

Game One: Up just 106-101 with 3:42 left vs. tired OKC
Game Two: Lousy finish in only loss
Game Three: Blew almost all of a huge lead
Game Four: Please
Game Five: Trailed 94-92 with 1:15 left

A 4-1 series win feels dominant, particularly coming on the heels of 4-0 vs. the Lakers. But, Dallas trailed late in three of the five games vs. OKC. And, they were also almost too cavalier in the series opener, then again in Game Three after jumping out to a 35-12 advantage. If you assume Miami won't be exhausted in the series opener...and that Miami is less likely to fall apart in the final seconds...

More on that next week, as well as the way that the Dallas three-point attack is very well suited to deal with the brick wall Miami has been putting up inside against Chicago. The Finals could be a lot of fun! First, let's get through Miami-Chicago. The Bulls will try to stay alive Thursday night at home. Back around mindnight with numbers and notes after that game finishes.

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Chicago Can't Equalize

by Jeff Fogle 25. May 2011 00:45

It was there for the taking. With Dwyane Wade playing poorly, Chris Bosh falling back to earth after a huge Game Three, and the Miami Heat's offense suddenly looking generic rather than awesome...the Chicago Bulls had Game Four in their hands in the final moments of regulation. Derrick Rose couldn't make a guarded 17-foot tie-breaker over LeBron James with 28 seconds left, then airballed a guarded 18-foot replay as regulation ended. Miami would win overtime 16-8, and take a 3-1 series lead.

NBA coaches have hopefully learned this month that asking your best guy to make a long guarded shot over the opponent's best defender isn't a great way to try and win a ballgame. Henry Abbott spends the year reminding everyone how poorly Kobe Bryant has performed in the final seconds of close games by running the clock down and forcing up a long jumper...so the NBA nation thinks "Hey, maybe it's due to finally work, let's try it with our guy!"

In a streaky game that saw both teams blow hot and cold, the Bulls were able to neutralize Miami's stars. Well, at least in regulation.

The Big Two in Regulation:
Rose and Deng: 41 points
James and Wade: 37 points

The Big Three in Regulation
:
Rose, Deng, and Boozer: 60 points
Rose, Deng, and Bosh: 55 points

Chicago had little left in the tank. Miami had a legacy to build...

In Overtime:
Big Two: Miami 12, Chicago 2
Big Three: Miami 16, Chicago 3

The meme of the afternoon had been that Dwyane Wade had put his kids to bed last night, then driven to the arena to work more on his shooting. It was a great way for the media to transition from the amazing Dallas-OKC ending (that Wade missed), while talking about a championship work ethic. Wade may never do that again! He was a poor 5 of 16 from the floor for the night, and that's after making his last two shots of the evening during the overtime pullaway.

Wade had a plus/minus of -18 in regulation in 36 minutes of game action.

In fact, Wade and LeBron were both in negative territory tonight. The plus/minus stars were Mike Miller with an astonishing +36 in 26 minutes, and Udonis Haslem with +25 in 34 minutes despite going 0 for 5 from the floor.

Let's run the numbers...

MIAMI 101, CHICAGO 93 (in overtime)
2-point pct: Chicago 46%, Miami 44%
3-pointers: Chicago 6/24, Miami 5/13
Free Throws: Chicago 17/22, Miami 32/38
Turnovers: Chicago 19, Miami 15
1's and 2's: Chicago 75, Miami 86

What's jumped out to me the most in this series is the consistency of Miami's defense. They've been able to contain Derrick Rose in almost lockstep fashion, particularly in their three victories.

Rose This Series:
Game One: 10 of 22 for 28 points (Chicago's win)
Game Two: 7 of 23 for 21 points
Game Three: 8 of 19 for 20 points
Game Four: 8 of 26 for 23 points in regulation

He's not killing Miami on drives. He's not earning a lot of trips to the free throw line. He's been contained as well as you can contain him. And, that's corresponded to very similar defensive performances is "1's and 2's" because Rose is pretty irrelevant from long range these days.

Chicago Scoring on 1's and 2's:
Game One: 73 points
Game Two: 66 points
Game Three: 70 points
Game Four: 72 points in regulation

Tight range. And, a hurdle Miami can reach and clear themselves with their weaponry.

Other quick notes:

*Miami finally got it's projected "2010-11 crunch time lineup" of James-Wade-Bosh-Miller-Haslem on the floor together for extended time. Miller made some shots, so it seemed for a second there like the Optimus Champ had finally been transformed from its component parts. But, there's still only one ball. And, this really wasn't a good offensive night for the Heat until they scored 16 in the extra period. They were below a point per possession in regulation. Miami could easily have lost and given back home court advantage had Chicago been creative on those last two regulation possessions rather than hoping Rose could make a long shot over a much taller defender.

*Miami was +15 free throws on +16 attempts. That's after +9 on +8 in Game Three on this court. Worth repeating again I think that Miami is very likely to win this category in home games...and they'll have home court advantage in the Finals on the currently high percentage assumption that they'll be representing the East.

*Once I start a tributary within a series, I feel like I should keep updating it. Feel guilty about that with Kyle Korver. He's trying so hard. Nobody wants to start making some shots more than he does. Tonight's 2 of 6 brings him to 25 of 77 from the floor over the last 12 games, with eight rebounds in 172 minutes. Chicago badly needs three-pointers to discourage Miami from slumping back to form a brick wall. The Bulls are just 14 of 56 from long range (25%) since that 10 of 21 opener.

Miami takes a 3-1 series lead to Chicago for Game Five Thursday Night. The Heat are 11-3 in the postseason, and have the look of a team that's about to peak at just the right time. The bad news for Heat fans is that probable championship opponent Dallas is MUCH better from 3-point land than Chicago is. More on that once business is formally taken care of in the conference finals. With overtimes each of the last two nights, there may be some twists and turns still ahead.

Back late Wednesday with numbers and notes from Game Five of Oklahoma City-Dallas...

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A Maverick Miracle!

by Jeff Fogle 24. May 2011 01:13

Down 15 points with 5:05 left in Game Four of the Western Conference Championships, the Dallas Mavericks rallied all the way back to tie the Oklahoma City Thunder before pulling away in overtime to win a 112-105 stunner...

No matter what prism you've been watching this series through, there were moments in that stirring comeback that would play to your perceptions.

*If you're in the "Dirk's Destiny" camp, you saw a few seemingly impossible shots go down in the Mavericks late surge. Jeff Van Gundy called the performance "legendary."

*If you've been blaming a lot of things on Russell Westbrook (like me!), it's as if he wanted to make sure EVERYONE IN THE WORLD saw that he's likely to make very poor decisions at horrible times...and that he's not a consistent shooter once you get away from the basket.

*If you think Westbrook is getting blamed too much, there were several poor decisions by his teammates and his coach down the stretch that played a big role in the blown lead.

With those themes fresh in our minds, let's review the rally...

(First, as a precursor, be aware that Oklahoma City's scoring in the fourth quarter to build what had been an 81-77 three-quarter lead up to 99-84 was done...in order...by Ibaka, Durant, Collison, Harden, Durant, Ibaka, Durant, Collison, and Durant. Westbrook only took one shot, a missed three-pointer. His Usage Rate ended at 33.9, meaning it was probably near or below the magic number of 32.0 before this stretch...OKC is 5-0 in the playoffs when Westbrook's Usage Rate is below 32.0. To reflect back to the prisms, I'll put Dirk's makes and Westbrook's misses in italics. The full fourth quarter play-by-play breakdown from ESPN's website is here)

5:00 to go: Oklahoma City leads 99-84

4:48: Shawn Marion is fouled by James Harden and makes 2 FT's.

4:33: Dirk Nowitzki is fouled by James Harden after a Dallas defensive rebound. This is notable because it was the SIXTH FOUL ON HARDEN, and because Dallas was in the bonus. DUMB! John Hollinger of ESPN was on top of things with poor OKC foul choices in his fourth quarter tweets (which made up for him tweeting "I think we're done here" just before the rally started...jinx city!). Dirk only made one free throw, so it's 99-87.

4:20: Russell Westbrook misses a 17-foot jumper just 13 seconds into the shot clock. The whole arena still thinks this is going to be an OKC win (and I was preparing an entirely different lead!)

3:48: Russell Westbrook tries to drive through the Dallas trees, and loses the ball to Jason Kidd. He pulls Kidd down afterward...resulting in two free throws that Jason makes. It's 99-89 OKC...and I'm thinking, "wouldn't it be something if OKC blows this game and I can point to those last two plays from Westbrook as the turning point?" Of course, Harden fouling out is the better turning point. In fact, Westbrook getting into trouble on offense is one of the dominos that started to fall because a key weapon was off the floor.

3:32: Kevin Durant misses a 22-footer 16 seconds into the shot clock. Durant seems to shy away from driving to the basket late in tight situations.

3:15: Dirk Nowitzki makes a 13-foot jumper...with the play-by-play listings not able to do justice to the acrobatics involved in Dirk's late scores. Dallas has cut it to 99-91 with 3:15 to go. And, it still seems unlikely that a full comeback is in the cards. Scott Brooks calls a timeout to remind his players that they haven't won yet.

2:49: Kevin Durant misses a 3-pointer late in the shot clock. Nick Collison gets the rebound. Russell Westbrook makes a free throw line jumper with 2:32 to go, and poses for the cameras like he's in a music video...rather than humbly remembering that he's hitting about 30% of his shots outside of 2 feet over the past few weeks.

2:21: Dirk Nowitzki hits a trey to make it 101-94

2:11: Jason Terry fouls Westbrook when Westbrook was a bit out of control bringing the ball up. But, Westbrook is great at drawing contact, so he may have been more in control than I was giving him credit for. Westbrook misses BOTH free throws, which was a shocker given how well he'd been hitting them in the playoffs.

2:00: Dirk Nowitzki makes a 14-foot jumper to make it 101-96, and it starts to dawn on Thunder nation that they're on the verge of a major choke job.

1:30: Russell Westbrook misses a 15-foot jumper. Obviously it was late in the shot clock. Harden isn't on the floor. Given what they've seen in the series, Dallas wants Westbrook taking that shot.

1:25: Dirk Nowitzki makes a 5-footer and it's 101-98 with 1:25 to go.

1:07: Kevin Durant gets picked by Shawn Marion...Jason Terry's subsequent layup attempt gets blocked by Thabo Sefolosha...Russell Westbrook misses a 16-foot jump shot...then fouls Shawn Marion right afterward in the backcourt. Marion makes one of two...meaning OKC gave Dallas four points on fouls a mile away from the basket during this stretch. It's 101-99 Oklahoma City with 39 seconds left. All of those "Dirk makes" and "Westbrook misses" notations and the Thunder are still ahead...WITH THE BALL...with 39 seconds left.

0:20: Thabo Sefolosha misses a three-pointer, and Dallas gets the rebound.

0:06: Dirk is grabbed from behind by Nick Collison and gets two free throws. I could see why some OKC fans would be mad about this call. Collison definitely had his hands on Dirk and impeded his movement. We've all seen it NOT called late in close games. We've also seen it called often when the scoring star of the team with the ball is the guy getting grabbed. Dirk makes his free throws, and we're tied.

Kevin Durant has a very long trey attempt blocked by Shawn Marion, and we're going overtime.

Overtime saw Jason Kidd and Jason Terry help Dirk with the scoring (a trey from Kidd broke a 105-all tie with 40 seconds left). OKC got buckets from Sefolosha and Ibaka, but misses from Durant and Westbrook. Four late Mavs free throws extended the margin to 112-105

DALLAS 112, OKLAHOMA CITY 105 (in overtime)
2-point pct: Dallas 48%, OKC 52%
3-pointers: Dallas 8/25, OKC 2/13
Free Throws: Dallas 34/39,OKC 19/25
Rebounds: Dallas 33, OKC 55
Turnovers: Dallas 13, OKC 25

Some truly weird extremes. Oklahoma City won rebounding by a monster margin. That was trigered by 20 offensive rebounds though....which is a sign they were settling for too many jumpers and not driving to the basket enough. You can see that they lost free throws by a bunch...AT HOME...which is very odd for the Thunder. Hustle made up for that until that last disastrous stretch. (The expanded boxscore can be read here).

Individually, Durant was trying to do too much...with 9 of 22 from the floor but a whopping 9 turnovers. Westbrook was 7 of 22 with 6 turnovers. The rest of the team shot 26 of 46 for 57%. Everyone else only shoots when they get really good looks, so that's a bit misleading. But, look how easy it is to get the guys who supposedly can't score some open looks!

Ibaka: 8 of 15, 18 points
Sefolosha: 6 of 10, 12 points
Collison: 5 of 7, 12 points

I'd feel like it's piling on to go through all of Westbrook's poor shooting spots again. I just wish this was part of the mainstream coverage. If an NFL quarterback kept having a horrible completion percentage in a series of big games, it would be mentioned. Heaven forbid AROD goes hitless in a couple of playoff games. Westbrook was 0 for 10 outside of 9 feet tonight. In what's supposed to be a jumpshooter's range of 16-23 feet, he's 15 of his last 56 going back a dozen playoff games. FIFTEEN OF FIFTY-SIX! He's 8 of his last 35 on treys, and OKC needs to keep up with Dallas from behind the arc.

Assigning proper blame amongst the contributing factors (schematics, teammates, coaching, his own mindset, intelligently designed Dallas defense) is admittedly tricky. But, the end result is so important that it shouldn't be ignored. It's happening. It matters. And, it was part of the collapse in the final minutes this evening. Dirk's heroics would have fallen short without all the zero possessions from OKC (he would end with 40 points on 12 of 20 from the floor...which was obviously a lot worse than 12 of 20 before the "instant classic" finish).

Dallas will bring a 3-1 series edge home for Game Five on Wednesday. Back with you late Tuesday for numbers and notes from Game Four of Chicago-Miami...

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